MOODY AIR FORCE BASE -- The recovery of missing soldiers and prisoners of war is a mission that Jerry Jennings calls a "sacred commitment."
As deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs, Jennings and his agency are dedicated to finding the remains of 88,000 who are missing in action from all conflicts.
At a POW/MIA ceremony held at Moody Air Force Base on Thursday, Jennings said recovery efforts are stronger than ever with the recent war on terror.
"The successes of the personnel recovery mission can be seen on distant battlefields where hundreds of lives have been saved in Afghanistan and Iraq," Jennings said. "In Iraq, alone, you and other rescue forces have recovered more than 75 of our people alive."
Jennings reminded the airmen that they play a vital role in making sure service members return safely.
"Make no mistake about it, part of that mission rests squarely on your shoulders, and you should be proud of everything you've done and continue to do, to bring back those who've gone into harm's way," Jennings said.
With 1,800 still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War and 78,000 from World War II, Jennings said recovery efforts are far from complete. Jennings leads the policy and control of all matters regarding missing personnel and the procedures for recovering Americans missing in action from all conflicts.
"It's going to be a long mission," Jennings said. "We have the resources and support to do the job, but it's the challenge of taking on the mission and completing it successfully."
Jennings said in the next few weeks his agency will be negotiating with representatives in North Korea to conduct searches for some of the 8,100 missing from the Korean War.
"Our teams inside North Korea ... have brought home the remains of your comrades, some who fell in battle more than 50 years ago," Jennings said.
He added that the United States has cooperation with the governments of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to conduct searches for missing military members. This agreement has allowed searches to be conducted in the jungles as well as at burial and crash sites.
"This reflects in our culture around the world," Jennings said. "Others say how wonderful it is that we have the desire, resources and commitment to look for those missing. Other countries have the desire, too, but they don't have the resources."
With the support of veterans and U.S. Congress, Jennings said it has made his agency's job easier to search for prisoners of war and missing servicemen. Jennings said there are more than 600 people dedicated to recovering missing personnel.
He added that when a government declares war it must also be responsible for recovering its service members.
"There's no greater debt that a government can owe you -- its uniformed service members -- than to return you home, with honor," Jennings said. "Our obligation today is to current and future generations of those who go in harm's way, and to those of the past."
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