F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. –
Fulfilling our nation’s promise.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency sums up its purpose in those four short words, but what is that purpose?
The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting of missing personnel from past conflicts to their families and the nation, and it was in support of this mission that Staff Sgt. Tom Whited, recently a combat arms instructor with the 90th Missile Security Operations Squadron and now with the 66th Security Forces Squadron at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, was called upon for his specific skillset.
Whited, who was born in Germany and speaks fluent German, was asked as part of his background with the Air Force Language Enabled Airman Program to join DPAA for a mission to Germany where they searched for information about six missing Americans lost in World War II.
For three weeks, Whited augmented a team on a mission to Germany where they investigated the loss of four aircraft and a possible isolated burial, according to Nicole Eilers, lead historian for the mission. The downed aircraft included a mix of fighters and a bomber, specifically at P-47 Thunderbolt, two P-51 Mustangs and a B-24.
“Whited was a great addition to the team on this mission and we were happy to have him assist us,” said Eilers. “Some of the people we needed him to speak with included local archivist and administrative personnel, local police, local foresters or game keepers, and other state or municipal officials.”
In addition to local officials, Whited helped in the crucial role of interviewing individuals who may have had detailed knowledge of the investigation site – or may even witnessed something firsthand.
“Most importantly, Staff Sgt. Whited interviewed a number of witnesses and informants who provided important information about several of the downed aircraft — and pilots — we were searching for,” said Eilers.
Though his abilities, like others who have been involved in LEAP, might be in demand by a unit on a specific mission, it does depend on the Airman’s home unit to decide whether the Airman will be able to participate.
“Ultimately, though, it’s up to my commander to decide whether they can let me go on temporary duty orders in support of DPAA or another agency,” said Whited. “Last year, DPAA reached out to me and asked if I wanted to go on a trip, but I unfortunately couldn’t participate then. Luckily, they reached out again this year and this time it worked out.”
While on DPAA missions like this, every member of the group has a specific role to fill; however, all hands can expect to get their hands dirty.
“We’ve got our jobs, but everyone pitches in on the dig sites,” said Tech. Sgt. Leah Ferrante, prior forensic photographer with DPAA and now a member of the Mighty Ninety. “Under the direction of the archaeologists and team leads, everyone on the mission will dig, they will screen, and they will search for remains of our lost servicemembers.”
The sense of how important these missions are and what they are trying to accomplish was a prevalent feeling to Whited during his three weeks in Germany.
“You read about the stories of the pilots and how they went down or how they went missing, and you have a chance to actually set the record straight, find things from their time and possibly even bring them back home,” said Whited. “To be part of one of the United States’ most important missions, to bring everybody back home, is just super humbling.”
More than 81,500 Americans remain missing from global conflicts since World War II. More detailed information can be found here.