While the budget cuts following the sequester are hitting the obvious areas and aspects of the Military, an aspect of the Armed Forces that is often overlooked, but nonetheless important, is also on the route to suffering.
Addressing the local American Legion in late February, Johnie Webb Jr., the deputy commander of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Hickham Air Force Base, Hawaii, said that in the event of the sequestration cuts (that went into effect on the March 1st), the efforts to recover the remains of American troops that never made it home from previous wars will come to a screeching halt.
Personally this appears to me as part of the standard fear mongering by many leaders in the military and government in order to pull at the heart-strings of the American people and to put pressure on Congress to reach a compromise. However in the grand scheme of things that the military must spend money on, this could very well be one of low priority and significantly impacted by the current sequestration.
If this impact is really being felt, then in order to meet the new cuts, civilian employees, like those who work for JPAC, will be forced to take two furlough every two weeks. “You can’t be deployed and be on furlough.” Webb said when he addressed the issue at hand, saying that “All of our operations run a minimum of 30 days. If we can’t get an exception to that policy – and let those civilian scientists and others deploy and take a string of successive days when they get back – we won’t be able to do any recoveries, and only limited investigations” of sites where remains are suspected to be.
The deputy commander went on to say that JPAC’s projects have already been slowed due to the arbitrary deadline being pushed back as far as it was. Furthermore, instead of receiving the budget increases that they had expected, of about $19 million, they will have to operate with their current budget of $100 million. This has ultimately limited their recoveries to that of Vietnam where they have approximately 180 possible recovery sites, out of the 253 missing Americans in Vietnam, instead of being able to recover remains from other countries.
But in addition to the cuts, recovery operations are being stalled at several locations in Cambodia due to financial issues and irregularities with the states military, which was described by saying that issues “arose in the way payments were being made and money was being paid to some Cambodia[n] military officials.”
To make matters worse, political issues between North and South Korea have ultimately halted recovery operations in North Korea. In 2011, officials from JPAC were in the process of securing travel visas, when due to regular military exercise between the U.S. and South Korea, the North Koreans decided to cut off the scheduled visit. After North Korea showed their aggression in the beginning of 2012 through a missile launch, officials from JPAC realized how dismal the recovering the remains of the 4,800 fallen heroes really was.
Bringing home these American Heroes is harder than just researching the locations and recovering the remains. With foreign governments and across the board budget cuts standing in the way, it will take a change on both fronts in order to return the remains of those who gave all to their proper resting place back on American soil.