POW/MIA remembrance reminder of sacred mission

  • Published
  • By Christin Michaud
  • AFMAO Public Affairs
On a day when the nation pauses to remember all those who have been prisoners of war or missing in action, employees at the mortuary are reminded of just how close to home the POW/MIA mission is.

The day is recognized as National POW/MIA Day.

A table in the atrium set to honor the more than 83,000 Americans missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War set the tone for the somber remembrance Sept. 20.

Chaplain (Maj.) James Parrish, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, opened with prayer and a short speech.

Following the speech, Danielle Van Orden and Ruben Garza from the Mortuary Affairs Division's Past Conflicts branch shared the important role they have in the mortuary affairs mission.

The organization collects DNA and family trees are researched to determine who is in the maternal line to find Mitochondrial DNA matches, explained Van Orden to her peers.

The swabs are then sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory next door at the Armed Forced Medical Examiner System.

Once a match is made, Van Orden is one of three notification officers here who call the family with information they have been waiting for, in some cases, for more than 40 years. The staff here sets up travel to meet face-to-face with the families and present them the report and any personnel effects available.

"We sometimes sit with families for hours," said Van Orden. "These families allow me to become part of their family."

She feels passionate about her role here and providing transparency and closure to families. Talking about the connection she feels with them brings tears to her eyes.

It's hard for her to put into words how honored she is to be a part of this sacred mission.
"I can't explain it," she said. "At the end of the day, it's about the families."

Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Heiselman, part of the Navy and Marine Corps liaison team here was reminded of all those who remain missing during the remembrance ceremony. Heiselman set up the POW/MIA table and explained each element of the table and its significance during the ceremony.

"You don't realize people are still out there missing and the people here are the ones who take care of their families," said Heiselman. "It was nice hearing what Danielle and Ruben do."