336th TRSS Airman supports DPAA mission
By Senior Airman Sean Campbell, 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 14, 2018
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- While the hot sun beat down on the forests of Vietnam, the humid, sticky air sat below the canopy, making the environment anything but pleasant for the group of Americans working on its soil. The team slowly worked each plot, digging, sifting and searching for U.S. Armed Forces service member remains, hoping to bring them home.
The ultimate goal of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for the last 30 years has been to provide the best possible accountability for missing personnel, whether missing-in-action or prisoners of war, and providing timely, accurate information to their families.
One member of this team was Master Sgt. Andrew Zavala, 336th Training Support Squadron independent medical technician. Zavala served as medical support for the team of 15 Americans from May 17 - July 8, 2018.
“I treated any kind of injury or illness that came up during our time there,” said Zavala. “I also functioned as the preventative medicine piece as well. I ensured the camp was within standard, latrines were at the right depth and distance, burn pits were at the right distance and then I worked with the team leader to identify trends of illnesses and potential hazards within the camp.”
The team’s base camp was set up on the side of a mountain, two hours away from any city. They lived on the mountain for about three and a half weeks conducting all of their recovery operations from there. The team consisted of a contracted archaeologist, members of all four military branches and a military civilian who served as the life support specialist.
“Essentially, our orders were to go through the identified site with the archeologist and dig based on a pre-determined grid,” said Zavala. “We started by digging a 4-by-4-meter plot and our findings would determine the direction we would move in.”
Zavala’s team was looking specifically for Commander Frank Fullerton, a Navy pilot who was shot down in Vietnam on July 20, 1968.
“Although we were not able to find any remains, we did recover aircraft parts and life support materials to include a boot sole, flight suit material and helmet pieces,” said Zavala. “We were able to advance the search to provide a higher probability to discover remains for the next team.”
The Vietnam War, known in Vietnam as the “War against Americans to Save the Nation”, took place from 1954 to 1975. The sides consisted of the North Vietnam communist government and the Viet Cong against the South Vietnam government and the United States. The conflict was started by the North Vietnam government who wanted to unify Vietnam under communist rule.
In, 1995, Vietnam released its official estimate of those who died in combat: nearly 2 million civilians and 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters. The U.S. military estimated between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died in the war and over 58,200 U.S. Armed Forces members died or were missing as a result of the war.
“Our purpose in working with the DPAA is very humbling,” said Zavala. “Supporting the cause and giving back to those who were before us gives a bigger picture of how we are all a vital piece in the Air Force and the Department of Defense as a whole.”