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Conferees Offer Personnel Recovery Recommendations

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 22, 2001 – "It's unlikely that DoD can make significant progress toward improving its ability to recover downed air crews and other personnel behind enemy lines without some agency, office or command having budget authority over recovery-related activities, Mel Richmond emphasized during the recently completed DoD fourth annual Personnel Recovery Conference here.

A push for full funding of personnel recovery missions, training, equipment and personnel was one of some 50 subjects discussed during the conference.

Conferees suggested that the DoD comptroller examine ways that "we could stabilize recovery-related funding and the possibility of vesting at least some level of budgetary responsibility to a lead office, agency or command," Richmond said. He is the acting director of operations for DoD's Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Office.

The services train, equip and man their forces to support its primary focus of fighting and winning the nation's wars, Richmond noted. From a DoD perspective, he said, the primary concern is to possess the capability to recover isolated service personnel during combat. Operations short of major conflict, however, have changed the traditional outlook of whom DoD might be called upon to recover.

Richmond, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, pointed out that many operations that DoD supports worldwide involved personnel from other government agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, CIA, FBI, Coast Guard, Department of Justice, State Department and other agencies.

One of the topics during the conference involved interagency cooperation in recovery and how to bring the unique capabilities of each agency to bear during such operations, Richmond said. Some conferees suggested the need for some sort of "national policy" on personnel recovery similar to DoD's stated policy. This policy would focus the efforts of the interagency community during a recovery incident.

DoD is also concerned about the increasing possibility of civilian employees having to be found and rescued. That's because an increasing number of DoD civilians and contractors are working side by side with uniformed personnel. Consequently, they often face the same dangers of captivity and isolation as service members.

The conferees recommended that ways be sought to train DoD's civilian workforce and contractors in survival, escape, evasion and resistance.

Similarly, DoD's wartime recovery capability is often used to support civil authorities in their search and rescue responsibilities, Richmond noted. Such operations are called civil search and rescue, and involve helping victims of hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, mudslides and the like. The conferees based their discussions on the National Search and Rescue Plan, an interagency plan to meet domestic and foreign commitments.

Though everyone agreed that DoD will continue to support civil search and rescue, conferees from DoD were quick to add that military support to civil authorities was strictly on a "not to interfere with DoD's primary mission -- to fight the nation's wars."

There was general agreement that the services will never "train and equip" to support civil search and rescue. But, however, there should be policies in place that guide DoD elements when called upon to provide such support. This is an issue that the Defense Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Office will continue to examine in coordination with the Joint Staff, the services and Coast Guard, according to Richmond.

Conferees were also concerned about the dangers of using Social Security numbers as service member's identification numbers. Every service member is required to learn the Code of Conduct in basic training, which states in part: "When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am bound to give only name, rank, service number, and date of birth." The Geneva Convention and Code of Conduct requires service men and women to divulge their service number to their captors.

But conferees pointed out that a prisoner of war giving his or her name, rank and date of birth is fine. However, in this world of sophisticated technology, revealing the person's Social Security number isn't a wise thing to do.

With knowledge of an individual's Social Security account number, the enemy can get volumes of personal information off the Internet with the click of a mouse, conferees noted. They suggested DoD consider creating a new, different number identification system for service members.

Among a host of other recommendations, including better training and acquisition and technology, conferees suggested the secretary establish a strategic campaign plan for personnel recovery.

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