The Reorganization that Never Was … Part I

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ASD Michael Lumpkin

We were all chatting last night and discussing the complete fiasco that has become this so-called “reorganization.”  Clearly all of the promises made in the early stages of the reorganization, particularly under Michael Lumpkin, DASD for SO/LIC (Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflicts) were strategic in nature.  Or, at least that is how it has played out.  We would like to think that Lumpkin, a former Navy Seal, took his role in the reorganization to heart.  Based on what we experienced both individually and collectively, we think he did.  It was those that followed Lumpkin in January of this year who refused to “keep the promise.”

These were some of the more poignant quotes from Mr. Lumpkin’s June 12, 2014 comments during the Annual Briefings for Vietnam Families in Washington, DC with regard to the reorganization. (Taken from the website for the National League of POW/MIA Families.)

“Our Service members’ lives are valued and their families our focus.”

“We are working to change the culture and processes that guide our workforce.”

“… a balanced and more family-centric approach, improved access to information will be the bedrock of the process and cultural for this new agency.”

“I look forward to developing a new way of working that is realistic, dynamic and responsive.”

“We’d like the voice of our missing personnel families to shape and inform our process for the future.”

“I want to ensure every stakeholder is aware of our intent, and an active participant in this change-process and feels empowered to provide feedback.”

“ … the goal of all of the officials you’ll hear from today is to bring an end to talk about the government being unresponsive.”

A few weeks later, before the House Armed Services Committee’s Military Personnel Subcommittee, Mr. Lumpkin shared similar sentiments to Congress. (Taken from the Military Personnel Subcommittee’s website.)

“Their families  are our focus, and better service to those families is our goal.”

“The Secretary’s decisions to change how the Department conducts personnel accounting addresses deficiencies in process, workplace culture and organizational structure.”

“The decisions are based on dispassionate analytical assessments and informed by feedback from families and Congress.”

“The Director of the new Defense Agency, in coordination with the SCOs, will develop guidance that details roles and responsibilities to ensure, responsive, timely and transparent communication with the families.”

“All external communication with families, VSOs, concerned citizens and the public will be robust and two-way.”

Now the question is, how much of these promises made specifically to families have been part of this reorganization?

Since Admiral Franken, LTG (ret) Linnington, DASD René Bardorf and former JPAC leader Commander McKeague took charge of the reorganization in January of 2015, families were categorically put at arm’s length and “robust and two-way” communication as well as being “an active participant in this change-process” were thrown out the window.  The promise of feeling, “empowered to provide feedback” is now sadly, laughable.

Weekly conference calls became one-way with DoD personnel telling stakeholders what they had done, were doing and their travel plans.  One the first call, when leaders of family groups attempted to question rationale for decisions made without their input and attempted to provide feedback, they were quickly removed from the calls, told they could no longer participate until their attitude changed.  The remaining stakeholders still on the calls learned quickly from this initial call that these weekly events were nothing more than an exercise, allowing the DoD to report back to Congress that they were working closely with stakeholders.

This became an underlying theme in everything that the DoD has done in the past eight months; showing more concern for appearances than substance.

To quote the ever-poignant 1991 resignation letter of former Chief of the Special Office for POW/MIAs Col. Millard A. Peck:

                                       “...the tawdry illusion of progress” 
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Special Forces Reports on POW/MIA Reorganization

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The Special Operation Forces Situation Report website, SOFREP, recently wrote an interesting article  on the reorganization of the POW/MIA accounting community into the newly formed DPAA (Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Accounting Agency).  While the article is available via subscription, someone was kind enough to send us the article in its entirety via email which you can find here in a PDF format.

We have several comments about this article that are worth stating here publicly.  First,  we are yawning over the “good vibes” that everyone wants to force-feed us about the “new energy and a renewed commitment” of the POW/MIA accounting community.  We’re sorry but how many times when we get a new director have we heard this?  As the article states, in the past 12 years we have had seven or eight directors.  This is no different than when your family expects you to get all excited over your cousin’s upcoming wedding – when it is her fourth one.

And Mr. Linnington thinks he is going to be around for 10 years?  The only hopes he has for staying that long is if Ann Mills Griffiths leaves this earth within the next three.  History has taught us that with every new director Ann gushes over him …until she disagrees with him.  Does the name Jerry Jennings ring a bell?  This is why people have always been critical of the DoD’s 40 years of fatal attraction with Ann Mills Griffiths.  She is the only one they work with and listen to and don’t think for a moment that family input is being sought on these wonderful conference calls with the DoD.  They are nothing more than window dressing so they can report back to Congress that there was family involvement.

As has been made clear by many of the other family groups, these calls are nothing more than press release journalism.  They are telling family groups what they have done and what they are doing, they are NOT keeping their promises made in the initial stages of 2014.   During the July 2014 congressional hearing with the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee Michael Lumkpkin, who was then the DoD’s lead person on the reorganization said, “We’d like the voice of our missing personnel families to shape and inform our process for the future.”

We are still waiting for this promise, as well as the others, to be kept.

The SOFREP article gives five focal points of the reorganization and the challenges of the new DPAA director, Michael Linnington.

1) Morale of the Workforce – While we as family members have been jerked around for the past 14 months, so has the workforce in both Hawaii and DC.  Often on a daily basis they have been told one thing and by the end of the week, things change yet again.  During the Annual Meetings many family members were told that little actual work has been done in the past 12 months because they were being pulled away for meeting after meeting about the reorganization.  DPAA is still unclear and indecisive on far too many aspects of the reorganization.  We at the POW Warrior are somewhat skeptical about the January 1, 2016 “fully operational” stand-up date.

2) Change WWII Priority – Clearly in direct correlation to the congressional mandate of 200 IDs annually, DPAA is putting all of their eggs in the WWII basket.  The point that needs to be made here is that DPAA immediate knew that WWII was going to be their treasure trove.  One has to ask that if they knew there were so many WWII remains ripe for the picking, WHY were these never cultivated or exhumed before the congressional mandate and reorganization?

3) Improve Communications – This comment takes a huge step back from all of the propaganda that Michael Lumpkin was sharing in the Spring of 2014 when the reorganization was first announced.  Families have become an after thought.  Their concerns of communication within DoD is the concern here, not the families.  So, the initial promise of improving how the new DPAA treats families has also been tossed.  One could wager that mountain was just too hard of a climb for a workforce who has had carte blanche to treat families as doormats for almost half a century.

4) Improve Vietnam Links – This is really nothing more than a red herring.  We have no leverage with Vietnam anymore, thanks to John Kerry and John McCain who worked overtime during their tenure with the 1992 Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs to bury the POW/MIA issue.  It is no coincidence that the following year both Kerry and McCain were present at the White House when then President Clinton announced the reestablishment of relations with Vietnam.  We have given Vietnam everything but the kitchen sink.  All of the talks and trips that some groups have taken to Vietnam are nothing more than public relation stunts for their membership and to get a little press.

5) Probe by war, not region – We have to ask how this change in focus is going to help with the numbers game. Separating a given case from the conflict that it came from just seems absurd.  While Vietnam would be a region in and of itself BUT, seriously DPAA, you are making us agree with Ann on this?  This idea needs to be rethought and we are confident that the folks at Research and Analysis will happily tell you that evaluating a case devoid of conflict and the political powder keg that is correlated to each conflict, Vietnam in particular, is risky business.

Sadly, DPAA is well behind where it should be in the reorganization process.  Many of the initial promises have fallen to the wayside or simply been ignored.  The DoD has floundered through this reorganization by passing the baton to three sets of people to oversee the reorganization.  What we will be left with will be a vague resemblance of what was promised yet the DoD will tout this as a victory because they control the message.

While we wait …