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DoD Official Outlines Personnel-Recovery Work to Be Done

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 31, 2004 – The thousands of Americans who put themselves in harm's way in dangerous and inhospitable environments as members of the armed forces and various government agencies "must be confident that should something happen to them in the course of their service, they will not be abandoned," DoD's senior official for prisoner of war/missing personnel affairs said here today.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Jerry D. Jennings praised the efforts of the more than 325 men and women in the audience at the DoD Worldwide Personnel Recovery Conference, saying they make up the backbone of the personnel recovery mission. They do the work to implement the policies and procedures that are set forth by the headquarters staff, he explained.

Jennings then quoted Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz as saying, "The brave men and women who serve today, whether in Afghanistan, northern Iraq, or other theaters for the war on terrorism, can do so with the full confidence that if they are captured, become missing, or fall in battle, this nation will spare no effort to bring them home. This is our solemn pledge; however long it takes, whatever it takes, whatever the cost."

Jennings said Wolfowitz's remarks guide his office's work in ensuring that it maintains "a powerful and credible capability to recover our isolated personnel." And he cautioned "that we don't shrink from using that capability and everything else within our power to recover and account for our personnel however long it takes, whatever it takes, whatever the cost."

The three-day conclave highlights the need to transform the Defense Department's personnel- recovery efforts to address the challenges of the 21st century battle space, Jennings noted. "Today, our military forces are facing new and often unexpected dangers," he said. Instead of the traditional threats of isolation occurring as a result of aircraft shootdowns or ground engagements, the primary risk of isolation in Iraq now comes from kidnappings and hostage taking, he noted.

"The enemy in today's battlespace has found new targets," said the former Marine who served as an intelligence officer with the CIA in Southeast Asia. "Whereas we have traditionally been concerned with recovering our uniformed personnel, we are now faced with an environment where the primary targets are the 'soft' targets the untrained and unprepared civilians (such as) DoD contractors, U.S. government civilians, journalists, humanitarian workers and others unprepared for isolation."

And U.S. combatants have to adapt to tougher and different environments, he added. "The battlefields our forces are encountering today are not the plains and forests of Germany, or even the sprawling deserts of the Middle East," he said. "We're finding ourselves embroiled in the urban battlefield of the villages, towns and cities of Iraq -- a battlefield, that for now, has certainly tilted the advantages in favor of the insurgent. Equally advantageous to our enemies are the extreme environments found in the mountains of Afghanistan.

"We are also faced with our isolated personnel being placed on the public stage in an effort to break America's will to persevere in ridding Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations of the terrorist threat," said the former deputy directory of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "We have even seen the unfortunate results of this tactic with some of our friends abandoning the coalition due to the threats to their citizens held hostage," Jennings said. "Tougher threats, new targets, and dynamic operational environments necessitate an all-encompassing examination of how the department must transform the personnel recovery mission to meet the challenges that lay ahead."

He noted that in the past, the annual conference was used partly to highlight successes in personnel recovery and to provide a vision and direction for the future. "We have accomplished much, but I want to use my time this morning to focus on the future to challenge you to accomplish even more," Jennings told the audience.

Turning his attention to transformation, Jennings quoted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as saying, "We need every nickel, we need every innovation, every good idea to strengthen and transform our military. A new idea overlooked might well be the next threat overlooked. If we do not fix what is broken and encourage what is good and what works, if we do not transform, our enemies will surely find new ways to attack us."

Jennings said Rumsfeld described transformation as change. "It's change in the way we fight, in the way we train, in the way we exercise, but especially, it's change in the way we think and how we approach our jobs," he said, quoting the defense secretary.

Jennings said transforming personnel recovery functions includes:

  • Making personnel recovery a coherently interoperable function between the services, interagency partners, allies and coalition partners;
  • Ensuring that transformed personnel-recovery specialists are equipped with state-of-the-art technology that operates seamlessly from survivor, to recovery force, to command and control -- regardless of the service, interagency partner or ally;
  • Making sure that recovery forces train individually, jointly, in a combined environment, and with interagency partners to ensure compatibility and commonality in tactics, techniques and procedures;
  • Requiring that all personnel are trained and prepared in proportion to their risk of capture to face the rigors of capture and, as a result, return home safely and with honor; and
  • Ensuring that a transformed personnel-recovery function is one in which personnel-recovery considerations are planned for and resourced prior to isolating events and not in reaction to events on the battlefield.

"We must rise to the challenges we face in personnel recovery so that we can be assured of having the capabilities we need for successful recovery in the future; we must keep our solemn pledge to our warfighters," Jennings told the gathering. "We need to begin our transformation with an agreement at the highest level possible that change is needed, and then we need to lay out a vision for the future."

Noting that the entire Bush administration is committed to recovering isolated Americans, Jennings again quoted Rumsfeld: "We will leave no one behind in Iraq or any of those missing from World War II, Vietnam, Korea, the Cold War or other past conflicts."

"One of the primary goals of transforming personnel recovery is to continue your efforts to move from a service-centric function to one that is not only joint, but interoperable with our interagency and coalition partners," Jennings said.

He said the National Security Presidential Directive, which is near completion, will help by directing the full integration of "U.S. diplomatic, civil, and military personnel recovery capabilities into a national architecture to ensure successful outcomes for personnel-recovery events."

The directive also requires all government agencies to participate in personnel-recovery planning consistent with their capabilities, and focuses planning efforts on joint, interagency, and coalition operations, rather than just on component operations, Jennings said.

He sought support from the attendees for the directive and asked them to submit their ideas on how to make it better so the initiative doesn't stagnate. He pointed out that most personnel recovery policy documents were written or last revised prior to 2001 before 9/11, the Colombian hostage incident, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Therefore, he said, "we need to take a new look at our policies to ensure they are relevant, useful and realistic that they support the warfighter, and that they adequately reflect the realities of the battle space today and into the future."

Jennings challenged the attendees to get involved in the process and provide inputs to their service and combatant command headquarters. "We don't have a corner on the market for good ideas or perfect guidance," he told the audience.

There's good news, Jennings noted, about integrating U.S. personnel-recovery activities with those of America's allies. "At a recent NATO Search and Rescue Panel meeting, we moved closer to completing a final coordination copy of the Combat Search and Rescue doctrine document," Jennings said. "In addition, NATO members will introduce the first ever NATO personnel-recovery policy and doctrine document for consideration next week. This will help us enhance interoperability in all types of personnel recovery, not just coalition combat search and rescue. All of us know that it's not enough simply to have good policies and sound doctrine. We must equip and train the warfighters to execute those policies and doctrine."

Calling training deficits in the Code of Conduct "unacceptable," Jennings said more than 1.4 million men and women at risk of capture and exploitation need training, with 30,000 requiring wartime training and 90,000 who need peacetime Code of Conduct training. "And by the way, those numbers don't even address the issue of contractor and government civilian training, as mandated by the recently published policy on preparing our DoD civilians and contractors to survive isolation," he noted.

DoD has gotten better over the past eight years in personnel-recovery planning and execution, Jennings noted. "Though it sounds basic, planning before acting is fundamental to the successful employment of our personnel recovery capabilities," he said. "We're improving how we approach recovery today, vice pre-Desert Storm only 13 years ago."

But he added that while personnel recovery is no longer just a pick-up game, and has even become carefully scripted, resourced and proactive, and there's still more work to do. "As we progress deeper and deeper into the war on terrorism, our recovery needs are becoming more dependent on nonconventional means of recovering our missing," Jennings said.

Contact Author

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Affairs Jerry D. Jennings

Related Sites:
Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office

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