Veterans

November 28, 2012

Airman returns ‘home’ to help recover MIAs

Tags:
SrA. Susan L. Davis
Grand Forks AFB, N.D.


An officer stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base traveled thousands of miles earlier this year to return to his birth country of Vietnam for the first time in eight years.

But Capt. Huy Tran wasn’t there to reunite with his own family or friends. His mission was to help search for and recover missing Vietnam War personnel, a rewarding experience Tran says he won’t soon forget.

In cooperation with the Joint Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command, and the Language Enabled Airman Program, Tran played a vital role as a Vietnamese linguist on a recovery mission to bring home service members missing from the Vietnam War Era.

LEAP is operated by the Air Force Culture and Language Center at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. It is designed for those who have some existing language capability, and targets early-career Airmen most likely to take fullest advantage of language learning, maintenance and assignments.

Tran, who speaks and writes Vietnamese fluently, said he wanted to participate in LEAP because he was looking for a way to contribute his language skills to the military.

“LEAP has taken my language skills to another level and allowed me to utilize them to serve the Air Force,” he said. “Programs like LEAP are what make the U.S. military second to none.”

JPAC, on the other hand, conducts global search, recovery and laboratory operations to identify unaccounted-for Americans from past conflicts in order to support the Department of Defense’s personnel accounting efforts. According to their website, JPAC continues to search for more than 83,000 Americans still missing from past conflicts.

This mission had a deeper meaning for Tran, who was born and raised in Vietnam until he was 11.

“As a son and grandson of South Vietnamese veterans, this recovery mission is dear to my heart,” Tran said. “My father and grandfather were camp prisoners during the war. My grandfather served five years, and my dad served four years and 11 months in the prison camps.”

Following his father’s release from the prison camps, Tran and his family were offered an opportunity to relocate to the United States. They left Vietnam to pursue a new life in Rock Hill, S.C.

“After I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to be in the military,” he said. “I never thought that being in the military would one day bring me back to Vietnam as a service member. It’s completely changed from the time I left; Americans are more welcome now and the attitudes and hatred are no longer there.”

Tran said he was excited when he found out he would be going on a recovery mission to search for missing Americans.

“I was thrilled that I was finally able to use my special language skills to contribute and serve,” he said. “Being there gave me insight into what happened that day. It let me imagine what it would’ve been like to be in their situation. It makes you realize the importance of the mission.”

The first leg of Tran’s journey with his team took him from Hawaii, to Thailand, and finally to a rural area of Vietnam, where the objective was to locate a crew of American sailors who had gone missing during a flying mission in the conflict.

The opportunities offered through LEAP, coupled with those offered by JPAC, allowed Tran to put his language skills to special use by translating between his team members and Vietnamese government officials and other locals.

“I would translate everything for them, including negotiating the areas where we would be working, what materials and how many workers we would need,” Tran explained. “They also needed me for everyday things, like buying equipment to do our work, or ordering food.”

One of the most vital aspects of Tran’s job as a team linguist, however, was interviewing witnesses to help narrow down the location and the circumstances where the service members first went missing.

Tran and his team negotiated with government officials to set up an area to camp, and an area to clear out some of the dense vegetation at the top of the mountain where the missing sailors were thought to be.

“By going through the rice fields, dense jungles, and up the mountain, it helped me relate to the time during which the crew got shot down,” he said. “When we arrived at the crash site, we found aircraft parts lying everywhere. That moment was so surreal. It sent chills down my spine seeing so many aircraft pieces scattered on the ground. We knew then that we were in the right place.”

Once those remains were uncovered and collected, they were sent to JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory, the largest and most diverse forensic skeletal laboratory in the world. Scientists from JPAC use circumstantial evidence, and forensic identification tools including dental comparisons and radiograph comparisons to analyze and identify remains.

Upon completion of the recovery mission, Tran and his team retraced their steps back home, first to Thailand, then to Hawaii, and finally to their respective destinations.

Tran said he looks forward to participating in more recovery missions like the one he completed earlier this year.

According to the Defense Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Office, since 1973, the remains of more than 900 Americans killed in the Vietnam War have been identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors. Today, more than 1,600 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. The U.S. government continues to work closely with the governments of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to recover its missing warriors.

“This JPAC mission was one of the most emotionally rewarding missions that I’ve had the honor to take part in,” Tran said. “Most importantly, I was given a chance to bring heroes home to their families, and their final resting place. There is no greater satisfaction than knowing that those families can finally have answers and closure.”




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines July 23, 2014

News: Israel’s Iron Dome defense in line for tripled U.S. spending - Israel’s iron Dome missile defense system may end up getting triple the U.S. funding that the Defense Department sought for it in March. Ukraine asked U.S. for systems to counter Russian missiles - A month before the United States says a Russian missile likely brought...
 
 

News Briefs July 23, 2014

U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan at 2,194 As of July 22, 2014, at least 2,194 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count. The AP count is three less than the Defense Department’s tally. At least...
 
 
Raytheon photograph

Raytheon completes key Air, Missile Defense Radar reviews

Raytheon photograph Partially-populated, full-sized Air and Missile Defense Radar array. Raytheon has completed two critical program reviews for the new Air and Missile Defense Radar, the U.S. Navy’s next generation integ...
 

 
Insitu photograph

Insitu demonstrates long endurance capabilities of Integrator unmanned aircraft

Insitu photograph Insitu’s Integrator unmanned aircraft recovers via SkyHook; the aircraft recently completed a 24-hour endurance flight. Insitu announced July 22 the successful 24-hour flight of its Integrator unmanned a...
 
 

NASA partners punctuate summer with spacecraft development advances

Spacecraft and rocket development is on pace this summer for NASA’s aerospace industry partners for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program as they progress through systems testing, review boards and quarterly sessions under their† Space Act Agreements with the agency. NASA engineers and specialists continue their review of the progress as the agency and partners move...
 
 

U.S. Navy selects Northrop Grumman for ship self-defense system

The U.S. Navy has awarded Northrop Grumman a $12 million task order for a full range of engineering services to continue modernizing the Ship Self-Defense System Mark 2. The contract has a potential value of $61 million over five years, if all options are exercised. SSDS MK2 is a combat system designed for anti-air defense...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>