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What is Personnel Recovery?

DoD Directive 3002.01E, Personnel Recovery in the Department of Defense, defines personnel recovery as "The sum of military, diplomatic, and civil efforts to prepare for and execute the recovery and reintegration of isolated personnel." With slight variations in definition, other federal departments, the NATO Alliance, and the armed forces of other partner nations now recognize the term "Personnel Recovery".

Preserving the lives and well-being of DoD personnel participating in U.S. - sponsored activities or missions is one of the highest priorities of the Department of Defense. The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs provides policy oversight of the mission to recover captured, missing, or isolated men and women placed in harm's way while serving our nation.

Today, DPMO leads the DoD on the full range of policy matters dealing with all aspects of personnel recovery. Individuals isolated from friendly forces have a better chance to survive if properly trained and equipped. Our labor provides a policy framework that ensures our warriors are properly trained to survive isolation and captivity and that the DoD has the architecture necessary to recover those warriors. Our oversight of this mission includes training to support the Code of Conduct as well as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training commonly known as "SERE." If a person becomes isolated, employing skills learned during SERE training will increase their chances of survival while the DoD personnel recovery system begins the five personnel recovery execution tasks: report, locate, support, recover and reintegrate. Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), often misunderstood as a synonym for Personnel Recovery, is but one method of accomplishing the "recover" task. For more information on the personnel recovery system, see Joint Publication 3-50, Personnel Recovery.

What is Reintegration?

Reintegration is the process carried out for recovered DoD personnel immediately following an isolating event to debrief, decompress, provide for their physical and mental health, and return them to duty as expeditiously as possible. The last of the five personnel recovery execution tasks, reintegration provides vital post-isolation support to the individual, and helps the DoD learn the lessons of experience in order to affect future prevention, preparation and response efforts.

Keeping the Promise

Personnel recovery greatly increases our nation's ability to keep the promise to bring home safely our men and women who become isolated in harm's way. Additionally, it helps prevent the exploitation of our men and women by our adversaries. Personnel Recovery operations have proven their worth and as a result, far fewer families in recent conflicts have been left with the anguish of unanswered questions about the fates of their loved ones.

Additional Topics

Interagency Involvement in Personnel Recovery

In past conflicts with nations such as Germany and Japan, the detention of captured Americans as Prisoners of War was, in-and-of-itself, lawful in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. In current operations, however, American service personnel face non-state adversaries, such as terror networks, and with that the possibility of detention in the form of kidnapping or hostage taking, which is unlawful. This change brings with it increased interest on the part of the US Department of Justice, to prosecute those who take Americans hostage and commit other unlawful acts against American personnel.

An additional change from past conflicts is that the United States conducts operations in conjunction with recognized sovereign governments in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan where the United States has embassies. In these situations diplomatic solutions and a reliance on host-nation authorities may be the best way to affect the safe recovery of missing personnel. That is why Personnel Recovery is the "the sum of military, diplomatic, and civil efforts to prepare for and execute the recovery and reintegration of isolated personnel." The US State Department coordinates with DPMO regarding their Personnel Recovery program.

Other US government agencies share the same concern for the safety of their employees abroad as does the DoD. Many government agencies also help develop technologies and collect information that can assist in the recovery of Americans missing overseas. For all these reasons, the White House approved the "United States Policy on Personnel Recovery and the Prevention of U.S. Hostage-Taking and Other Isolating Events" in the form of Annex 1 to National Security Presidential Directive 12. This policy enables Personnel Recovery cooperation across the whole of government by giving every federal department the same vision, goals, and framework with respect to the safe return of our people.

DoD Support to Civil SAR

The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs is the DoD's policy lead for supporting civil search and rescue (SAR) efforts. Although Civil SAR sounds like personnel recovery, the mission is very different due to its environment. DoD Directive 3003.01, DoD Support to Civil Search and Rescue, defines Civil SAR as "Search operations, rescue operations, and associated civilian services provided to assist persons and property in potential or actual distress in a non-hostile environment." This "non-hostile environment" means that neither the distressed person nor the rescue forces face human threats during a rescue attempt although both may be challenged by natural threats such as adverse weather.

The DASD for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs represents the DoD in an interagency civil SAR forum called the National Search and Rescue Committee or NSARC. By interagency agreement, the NSARC was formed to craft national policies and plans to help the US government meet its international obligations and strengthen its domestic capabilities to respond to this mission. Chaired by the US Coast Guard, the NSARC publishes the National SAR Plan and the National SAR Supplement to the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue Manual or IAMSAR Manual. The IAMSAR Manual is jointly sponsored by two United Nations agencies: the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

With DoD support to the civil SAR mission, the US government typically saves 4,000-5,000 lives annually.

NATO Search and Rescue Panel

The NATO Search and Rescue (SAR) Panel is a forum through which NATO nations synchronize Personnel Recovery doctrine, as well as tactics, techniques and procedures for SAR and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs, or his designated representative, represents the United States at the NATO SAR Panel.

The NATO SAR Panel is a subordinate body to the Air Operations Support Working Group (AOSpWH), which was established by the Military Committee Air Standardization Board (MC ASB). The Air Standardization Board is one of five boards overseen by the NATO Standardization Agency, the others being the Land, Maritime, Medical and Joint Standardization Boards.

The SAR Panel develops doctrine and procedures which are ultimately published as Standardization Agreements (STANAGs) and Allied Publications.