GRAFENWOEHR, Germany—The 7th Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy gave the first instruction to junior and future NCOs on the Army’s new “absent-unknown missing persons battle drill” at Camp Normandy, Germany, Jan. 28 as part of the Basic Leaders Course.
Army Directive 2020-16 “Determination and Reporting of Missing, Absent-Unknown, Absent Without Leave, and Duty Status-Whereabouts Unknown Soldiers” published Nov. 17, 2020, outlines a new system for the Army to follow when a Soldier is unaccounted for. This directive included several changes but still is unified with Army Regulation 630-10 “Absence without leave, desertion and administration of personnel involved in civilian court proceedings.”
“The missing persons battle drill helps clearly define the steps and procedures towards finding missing servicemembers through accountability and responsibility,” said Staff Sgt. Marcel Sessoms, the first instructor at the 7th Army NCOA to teach this new course.
Before the new policy, Soldiers who did not report to duty would be considered AWOL after 24 hours and later labeled as a deserter after 30 days of an AWOL status. With the update to the policy, a commander will label a Soldier as AWOL only if there is no doubt that the Soldier did not willingly report. In addition, new status codes have been created to fill the period that the Soldier is missing.
Absent Unknown, or AUN, is the code to use for the missing Soldier’s first 48 hours after failing to report. Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown, or DUSTWUN, is used when the command team has exhausted all efforts to find the missing Soldier, and is sure the absence is involuntary. At this point, the family of the missing Soldier is contacted and offered a liaison for the remainder of the investigation.
Under the new directive, first-line leaders are no longer just relying on gut feelings or intuition to make efforts to find a missing Soldier. The new policy assigns clear roles and responsibilities.
“Anything can happen,” said Spc. Joshua Perkins, a student assigned to the 16th Sustainment Brigade, 21st Theater Sustainment Command. “It’s important for NCOs to know what to do when their Soldiers aren’t answering their phones.”
In order to illustrate the need for the class, Sessoms used the case of Pfc. Gregory Morales to start the conversation on missing Soldiers. Morales was last seen Aug. 19, 2019 and his skeletal remains were found buried 10 months later a few miles from Fort Hood.
The later disappearance of Spc. Vanessa Guillén in April 2020 brought renewed attention to the issue of missing and unaccounted for Soldiers, said Sessoms.
Sessoms said these cases pointed out the problem of the Army’s previous accountability system lacking leader actions between the time that a Soldier is unaccounted for to the time the Army determines that they’re absent without leave, or AWOL.
The first line supervisor’s responsibilities include any means of finding the Soldier electronically (text, call, check for social media posts), conducting a quarters check, checking the last known location, contacting the last duty station, and to provide accurate reports to leadership of all of the above to include any known family or work issues, including suicidal ideation.
The missing persons battle drill is taught in tandem with Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston’s “This Is My Squad” initiative.
“Throughout the class, we stress the importance of the team and TIMS,” said Sessoms. “It plays a major role in ownership and personal responsibility for those you influence around you and is heavily utilized in this battle drill.”
Sgt. 1st Class Peter Notkin, chief of training at the 7th Army NCOA said the new policy is about engaged leadership and goes hand-in-hand with TIMS. He said the new policy ensures the lowest-level NCOs know where their Soldiers are and empowers them with resources to know how they can find them.
“Noncommissioned officers are responsible for leading and taking care of Soldiers,” said Command Sgt. Maj. James Holmes, the commandant of the 7th Army NCOA. “We want to instill this in every Soldier and junior NCO that comes through our academy from day one, and ensure that when they leave, they know what’s expected of them should one of their Soldiers go missing or not check in. It needs to be in their toolkit.”
The 7th Army NCOA is the U.S. Army’s oldest NCO Academy and the only academy serving the European Theater and Africa. The academy offers ten cycles per year of the Basic Leadership Course at Grafenwoehr or via Mobile Training Team, and has trained over 1,200 European and African ally and partner students from 34 countries.