Wright-Patt equipment lab helps bring home Americans missing in action

2nd Lt. Joseph Montero, Air Force Materiel Command, presents John Goines, manager of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency-Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, with a certificate of appreciation for presenting the agency’s processes and goals for Military Awareness Day. (U.S. Air Force photo/Caroline Coulson)
Caption
2nd Lt. Joseph Montero, Air Force Materiel Command, presents John Goines, manager of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency-Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, with a certificate of appreciation for presenting the agency’s processes and goals for Military Awareness Day. (U.S. Air Force photo/Caroline Coulson)

With a few chunks of fiberglass and parts of parachute risers recovered from foreign soil, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency-Wright-Patterson non-biological evidence branch fulfills the nation’s promise to never leave a fallen American behind.

Based in Arlington, Virginia, DPAA headquarters works with various branches around the world to gather biographical evidence that can help identify individuals who are still missing in action.

John Goines III, manager of the DPAA Lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, presented to an audience at Air Force Materiel Command for Military Awareness Day about the agency’s goals and process.

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“It’s all about bringing that individual who sacrificed themselves for our country back to their loved ones,” said Goines, who has served the agency’s mission for 25 years both on the field and in the lab.

DPAA sends teams to excavate past conflict ground sites from Laos to the Netherlands to uncover testimonial, biological and non-biological evidence that might match a case file.

The agency identified more than 200 missing Americans last year and is racing the clock to recover just as many by the end of this fiscal year, working to provide “the fullest possible accounting” of the 82,000 Americans who are still missing.

“Time – that’s our biggest enemy,” said Goines.

As conflicts settle into history, they take their personal and material witnesses with them. Now, the DPAA is prioritizing Vietnam evidence as southeast Asia’s acidic soil rapidly deteriorates it.

Excavated evidence is sent to laboratories such as Wright-Patterson’s DPAA-Lab, which specializes in analyzing non-biological material evidence, such as fragments of uniforms, life rafts, buttons, zippers, bullets, signaling devices and any other equipment personnel wore, sat on, flew by, fired and used on the field.

Biological remains of the individual are priority, but time is destroying it. Goines explained that equipment, which degrades much more slowly, is the next best thing.

The DPAA Lab-WP compares what was found in the field to archived equipment to determine when the recovered equipment was used, whether the crash was survivable, and how many crew members were involved.

Information that the DPAA gains from the families of missing individuals also helps the agency piece the investigative puzzle together, in turn giving information back to the families.

“That’s essentially what this agency does,” said Goines. “It provides information. I’m not going to say closure. But if I can provide you information that offers peace and comfort, then everything that I’ve ever done is worth it.”

The DPAA is scheduled to meet with families in the Dayton area on Sept. 7 of this year.

“It’s all about supreme sacrifices; we must never forget,” said Goines.