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AFMES DNA lab helps identify the fallen of past conflicts

Gina Parada, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System DNA analyst, collects a DNA sample during a POW/MIA Accounting Agency Family Member Update in Louisville, Kentucky. DNA can be used to support anthropology of recovered skeletal remains or be used as primary means of identification. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo) Gina Parada, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System DNA analyst, collects a DNA sample during a POW/MIA Accounting Agency Family Member Update in Louisville, Kentucky. DNA can be used to support anthropology of recovered skeletal remains or be used as primary means of identification. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)

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DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — Members from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System traveled to Louisville Kentucky recently, to support the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency Family Member Update.

The mission of DPAA civilian and military personnel, along with other U.S. and foreign specialists, research, investigate, recover and identify remains of Americans unaccounted for from World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War, and Iraq/Persian Gulf Wars.

The AFMES DNA Operations Laboratory supports the DPAA family member updates by identifying and collecting relative family reference samples needed for comparison to DNA results generated by the DNA Ops Lab,” said Dr. Timothy McMahon, Department of Defense DNA Operations director. 

Mrs. Marjorie Mahar (center), shows relatives of missing service members photos and articles of her older brother, U.S. Army Private First Class Roland L. Bowser during a POW/MIA Accounting Agency Family Member Update in Louisville, Kentucky. Four of Mahar’s five brothers served in the U.S. Armed Forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)Mrs. Marjorie Mahar (center), shows relatives of missing service members photos and articles of her older brother, U.S. Army Private First Class Roland L. Bowser during a POW/MIA Accounting Agency Family Member Update in Louisville, Kentucky. Four of Mahar’s five brothers served in the U.S. Armed Forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)

DNA can be used to support anthropology and archaeological of recovered skeletal remains or be used as primary means of identification. DNA samples can also be used to exclude individuals from other sets of remains. 

During the FMU, Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory analysts collected samples from donating family members via cotton swabs.

“We utilized the swabs to collect cells on the inside of a person’s cheek,” said Gina Parada, AFMES DNA analyst. “It was extremely touching to hear the family members talk about their missing loved ones and it reminded me how sacred this mission is.”

McMahon said his team’s goal is to acquire at least two maternal, paternal and autosomal DNA reference samples for every case. Current forensic testing includes mtDNA sequencing (maternal lineage), Y chromosomal STR testing (paternal line) and autosomal STR testing (mother, father, siblings, children). We utilize all testing methods due to the age of the samples and providing the greatest ability to have a reference to use for comparisons. This allows us to include or exclude an individual. By getting two of each type, AFMES-AFDIL can facilitate any scenario that may arise from the DNA testing and allow for more efficient testing.

In addition to DNA collection, these meetings are a way for families to learn about the overall accounting community mission and to discuss their loved ones case with their DPAA case analyst. These gatherings also provide an opportunity for families of missing personnel to meet one another and share experiences with those who best understand their loss. 

“I learned about these updates from a local paper a few years back,” said David E. Franklin, whose uncle went missing in action in July 1950 during the early days of the Korean War. “I donated DNA and sent in additional information, anything that would help.”

Franklin’s uncle, U.S. Army Cpl. Paul E. Hoots, E Company, 34th Infantry. Regiment, is one of 7,702 Americans still unaccounted for from the Korean War, according to the DPAA. 

“Growing up it wasn’t something we talked about but I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened to my uncle,” Franklin said. “I will keep coming to these meetings as long as I can, it gives me an opportunity share about my uncle’s service, keep his memory alive.” 

Franklin’s memories and thoughts of his uncle echo the inscription on the POW/MIA flag “You are not forgotten.” 

“For as far back as I can remember, my family kept his bedroom exactly the same from the day he left,” Franklin said. “It’s good to know that there are people out there who are still looking, still searching.”

McMahon said that this opportunity to provide closure is not lost on him.

“I think that this is the noblest of all missions and I’m honored to come to work every day knowing that what I do is for the missing service members and their families,” said McMahon. “There is no greater feeling than seeing the relief on a family member’s face that their loved one is home.”

For more information about the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency visit their website, or visit AFMES for information about the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System.

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