Guest Speaker Deputy Director for Expeditionary Support Major Bishop Sparks, Defense Prisoner of War/Missing In Action Accounting Agency, shared the DPAA’s roles in recovery, identification and closure communication during the celebration of POW/MIA Recognition Day on September 16 at Frontier Center Conference.
Before introducing Sparks, Special Troops Battalion Lt. Col. Mark Winker said the remains of 70 servicemen were recovered and repatriated to Kansas by the DPAA and that approximately 1,186 servicemen from Kansas remained missing. .
Sparks declared the third Friday in September to be National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day. He said the celebration gives the nation a moment to recommit to remembering POW and MIA service members and seeking answers for their families. He said he spoke at the event to represent his DPAA teammates working in 46 countries and representing nearly 82,000 service members. He then shared a video with the public detailing the functions of the DPAA in search, recovery operations, identification and family events.
Sparks said the DPAA’s mission is to account for missing personnel with consideration for their families and the nation.
“We strive to give families the comfort and answers we can by providing information about their loved one’s service and, ultimately, their sacrifices. We are committed to doing everything we can to bring home these missing DoD personnel, and I am very proud to be part of this mission. It is very humbling to think that I can play a small part in this incredible and noble mission and hopefully bring answers to families who are waiting for their loved ones to return.
Sparks said most of the military missing went missing during World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War and the Cold War. Sparks said the DPAA recently assessed that the remains of only about 38,000 service members missing can be recovered, as many are lost at sea.
Sparks said that in recent months, visits to DPAA facilities have increased, allowing the agency to garner awareness and support from prominent visitors such as congressional staff and secretaries of the Army and Marine. He said the DPAA was also receiving international attention, supporting its relationship with 46 countries.
“These combined efforts and navigation have allowed DPAA to further utilize the progress made in achieving the most comprehensive accounting possible, as we rely heavily on cooperative relationships to carry out these missions.”
Sparks said responsibility for the Vietnam War is the agency’s top operational priority. Accordingly, it enjoys high-level cooperation with relevant countries and focuses on pre-approved sites for excavation. Once more personnel are being recovered from the Vietnam War, World War II is the next highest priority for the DPAA. Sparks said the mission includes working with international partnerships to reach more dig sites. He said the U.S. also plans to continue working with South Korea during operations and repatriations, a partnership that repatriated the remains of 68 Korean service members and six U.S. service members in an operation last year. last.
Sparks said that in 2022, the DPAA conducted more than 100 investigation and recovery operations in 38 counties spanning Southeast Asia and Europe, highlighting the importance of private partners during its missions.
He said his office is the force provider for DPAA missions employing organic personnel with a wide range of specialties including mountaineering and explosive ordnance disposal.
“Our primary focus is to train, equip and equip organic recovery and survey teams for land and submarine operations.”
He said teams deploy up to 150 days a year alongside host nation officials and local employees, though recovery missions take an average of one to two months depending on the complexity of an excavation site. .
More than serving as ambassadors for the agency, Sparks said the most important role of DPAA members is communication with families. He explained that the agency holds six family member updates across the country and meets with families while expecting a loved one.
“This allows us to provide briefing notes on topics such as operations, scientific analysis, agency updates and initiatives. … I had the opportunity to participate in a family’s individual file and was amazed by the family’s dedication and commitment to bringing their loved one home. All of the families present at this family member update echoed their same dedication and commitment. It was truly remarkable, and I am equally amazed by the efforts of the men and women of DPAA.
In conclusion, Sparks said the most humbling part of the mission is reuniting a family with a loved one. He offered to answer questions from the audience and discussed the difficulty of digging in acidic soil, the challenges of interviewing when family members and witnesses die, and the agency’s role in exhumation. . Sparks also explained that the United States has a unique commitment to finding missing personnel, unlike any other country in the world. He encouraged service members to support the agency’s mission by logging in through the interactive assignment module. He encouraged audience members who may be missing a loved one to offer a DNA sample to match the material during an investigation.
To learn more about the DPAA and how to get involved, visit https://www.dpaa.mil/.