Fulfilling our nation’s promise

By Leslie Herlick, Fort Novosel Public AffairsMarch 7, 2024

Fort Novosel SERE cadre, left to right, Contractor Safety Officer Jason Mairel, Resistance Instructor Barbara Markow, Evasion Instructor Sal Castillo, Training Manager Shawn "JOD" Jones, SERE Commander Maj. Nicholas Barwikowski, and SERE First Sgt. Andrew McCallister stand with Master Sgt. Benjamin Sievert, the Army Senior Enlisted Leader and Noncommissioned Officer in Charge for Expeditionary Support at Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency after his briefings to SERE students on March 1, 2024.
Fort Novosel SERE cadre, left to right, Contractor Safety Officer Jason Mairel, Resistance Instructor Barbara Markow, Evasion Instructor Sal Castillo, Training Manager Shawn "JOD" Jones, SERE Commander Maj. Nicholas Barwikowski, and SERE First Sgt. Andrew McCallister stand with Master Sgt. Benjamin Sievert, the Army Senior Enlisted Leader and Noncommissioned Officer in Charge for Expeditionary Support at Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency after his briefings to SERE students on March 1, 2024. (Photo Credit: Leslie Herlick) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT NOVOSEL, Ala. - In his 1920 acceptance speech for the Republican nomination for the vice presidency, Calvin Coolidge said, “The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself be forgotten.”

One defense agency not only remembers America’s defenders but actively works to fulfill the nation’s promise to account for or bring all missing personnel home. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s (DPAA) mission is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel from past conflicts to their families and the nation.

The DPAA website (www.dpaa.mil) shows more than 81,500 Americans still unaccounted for from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars and other conflicts.

On February 29 and March 1, Master Sgt. Benjamin Sievert, the Army Senior Enlisted Leader and Noncommissioned Officer in Charge for Expeditionary Support at DPAA in Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickman, Hawaii, visited the Army Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school to talk about the DPAA mission to SERE students and cadre.

Sievert said that when he served with 5th Special Forces Group as a Special Forces Communications Sergeant and Team Sergeant, he was able to learn from many of the unit’s Military Assistance Command, Vietnam- Studies and Observations Group, or MACV-SOG, veterans who conducted covert, classified missions throughout Southeast Asia.

Sievert said that he was intrigued by the stories of the Bright Light missions that the MACV-SOG Soldiers would conduct, rescuing imprisoned service members, downed pilots and aircrews, missing service members, or recovering those that had been killed in action. These stories inspired him to look at DPAA as a broadening assignment when the time to move came.

“DPAA has an ongoing mission that really just makes you proud to be an American,” said Sievert. “It’s a very humbling experience when you think about what the nation is doing to ensure that they are going to fulfill their promise.”

DPAA has a technical workforce. Scientific recovery experts work in conjunction with historians who comb through archival data about crash sites, missing service members, or unidentified graves. Sievert said that DPAA will then send out investigation teams to the location, who will then use the historical data to try to pinpoint and corroborate it by talking to landowners, townspeople, or officials. He said once they confirm that there might be remains in an area, they have enough evidence to put together a recovery team to go out and bring them back.

Sievert said that a lot of coordination must occur through governmental channels as well, since many sites are in countries that the U.S. may have been at war with or does not have well developed relationships. He says this can be diplomatically challenging at times. DPAA has recently identified service members in Germany, North Korea, Burma, the Philippine Islands, Vietnam, and France.

DNA repositories did not exist in wars of the past, so DPAA relies on genealogists and family member updates for DNA outreach. This is where family members of the missing provide DNA samples, which are then put in the DPAA system so they can match remains to a family, according to Sievert. DPAA also uses these regular family meetings to provide information about the program to account for personnel from past conflicts.

The connection of DPAA to the SERE course came from the relationship that Shawn Jones, the training manager at SERE at Fort Novosel, had with Fern Sumpter Winbush, the Principal Deputy Director of the DPAA, when she was his Garrison Commander at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Jones called her to see how they could connect the DPAA mission into SERE.

Jones said he hopes to continue an enduring relationship between SERE and DPAA, allowing for DPAA team members, POWs , and other experts to come and share their stories and knowledge with future SERE school students, cadre, and instructors.

SERE prepares service members for worst case battlefield scenarios, peacetime governmental detention, or any other mission that could place them at high risk of becoming isolated from their units. SERE teaches its students how to return from these situations with honor.

Unfortunately, history has shown that not everyone makes it home. DPAA comes in after hostilities cease to recover service members.

“We stress to our students that someone is going to be out there looking for you,” said Jones.

DPAA exemplifies the SERE motto of “leave no one behind.”

To learn more about DPAA, visit their website at www.dpaa.mil .