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Leave no one behind: an inspirational, practical reality

Northwest Guardian

Published: 05:16PM May 8th, 2014

The U.S. military’s phrase about leaving no one behind is more than a promise.

It’s a personal contract among warriors and a core national value. It represents who we aspire to be.

Historians trace this universal sentiment all the way to the Greek poet Homer. We still embrace this ancient value: Americans do not leave Americans on the battlefield — whether dead, wounded or unaccounted for.

All services have versions of it. The Army’s Soldier’s Creed reinforces it. Hollywood glamorizes it, from “We Were Soldiers” to “Black Hawk Down” and “Saving Private Ryan.”

This high standard was in local evidence last week, when the remains of Air Force Capt. Douglas D. Ferguson were returned to his Lakewood home and loved ones after 44 years at a crash site in Laos. After almost a half century, the country he had served in the Vietnam conflict brought closure to his family.

The government agency that facilitated his return, the Joint Prisoner of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command, was created to fulfill that commitment. JPAC’s work, described in Bob Reinert’s article on Page A1, is at once inspirational, difficult and tedious. TheJPAC professionals who hike to remote sites where Americans have fought and fallen are unfailingly dedicated. They have to be

Jason Kaye, former Northwest Guardian photojournalist who worked for the agency more than four years, described the job’s routine sacrifices — long absences and debilitating injuries. But team members endure the hardships because the task is so important — and so formidable.

The Defense Prisoner of War-Missing Personnel Office reports that 83,000 Americans are missing from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Cold War and the 1991 Gulf War. Teams performing “archival research, intelligence collection and analysis and scientific analysis” augment the field investigations and recoveries that ultimately bring our heroes home.

Many are missing because of the fog of combat, but many patriots have gone missing from locations other than battlefields.

There are plenty of Americans risking their safety on behalf of others. The terrible episode of the 9/11 anniversary attacks in Banghazi, Libya, reminded us of the dangers many diplomats and foreign service workers face in volatile regions. U.S. Agency for International Development employees routinely find themselves out of the reach of U.S. security. Many service agencies work in impoverished nations where political structures are fragile.

Most of these noncombatants labor in the faith that if something happened to them, their government would do what was necessary to find and return them. It’s the practical part of leaving no one behind; those of us without weapons and body armor rely even more on that national value.

I once had a job that forced me to rely on that faith. Though we were active-duty Soldiers based in Cairo, my travel partner and I wore civilian clothes and had the charter to learn as much as we could about the outlooks of average Egyptians. We found ourselves in a mosque near the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar that seldom hosted Americans.

The imam was cordial during our visit, but as we walked through an outer courtyard toward the front entrance to depart, three young, visibly agitated men blocked our path to the gate and confronted us about why we were there. The imam stepped between us, touching off a heated debate..

Our Arabic was good enough to know we were in danger as the discussion devolved into shouting. When I heard talk about “taking” us, I began checking for exits and mentally calling up training that applied. I reassured myself that the embassy would launch into action on our behalf if we disappeared. I was certain of it.

I confirmed that day the culture’s pre-eminent value was hospitality to guests; the imam’s insistence on it saved us.

I took comfort in the government’s promise to not leave us behind. Without the dedicated individuals who keep that promise, I don’t know many individuals willing to do the nation’s business in such remote, thankless locations around the world.