Monday, March 31, 2008

Leave No Man Behind

Six years ago this month, Petty Officer Neil Roberts, a U.S. Navy SEAL, fell out of a stricken helicopter during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. According to a Pentagon report, Roberts survived the fall, then held off Al Qaida and Taliban fighters for over 30 minutes, firing a belt-fed machine-gun. The terrorists finally overran Roberts’ position and killed him at close range, after his gun jammed.

Believing that Roberts might still be alive, U.S. special forces mounted two rescue attempts. Six other Americans—including two airmen—died in the fighting that followed. The battle finally ended with the recovery of Roberts’ body, the evacuation of other casualties, and Air Force gunships raking the area with cannon fire.

The effort to rescue Petty Officer Roberts typifies the military credo of “leave no man behind.” It’s the same spirit that motivates the search for those listed as missing in action, a process that continues years (even decades) after they disappear.

That sort of heroic effort is providing closure for two more American families. The remains of Army Staff Sergeant Matt Maupin were recovered in Iraq last week, almost four years after he vanished. Maupin—then a Private First Class—disappeared after his convoy was attacked in Iraq on 9 April 2004. He was subsequently promoted to Sergeant, and later, Staff Sergeant.

Sergeant Maupin, an Army reservist from Batavia, Ohio, was the only American still listed as missing-captured in Iraq. Maupin’s family learned of the recovery on Sunday, with a phone call from President Bush and a visit from an Army general.

Half a world away, a similar search resulted in a final homecoming for Major Robert Woods. The Air Force pilot was shot down in June 1968, while flying a visual reconnaissance mission over South Vietnam’s Quang Binh Province. Woods and his co-pilot, Captain Johnnie C. Cornelius, were reported missing in the crash of their O-2 Skymaster. Their remains were discovered last year and identified by the U.S. military.

"Dad's gift to us is that he is bringing all of our family together again," Woods’ daughter told the Arizona Republic. "All of us are scattered, all went our own ways and have not seen each other for many years. Now I'll be looking forward with mixed emotion to April 9."

Searching for missing service members is costly, time-consuming and frequently frustrating. Thousands of U.S. military personnel remain missing from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and for the vast majority of those families, there will never be any closure. In many cases, their loved ones disappeared in areas where locating and recovering remains is nearly impossible, or there’s simply no place to begin the search.

Some have even argued that process is too expensive and creates false hopes among relatives of the missing. If you don’t believe us, consider the take of various Yale faculty members on the issue, articulated in a campus newspaper article that followed Operation Anaconda. We’re guessing that none of the professors quoted in that 2002 story have ever served in the military.

In response, we'd say that you can’t put a price tag on final resolution for the families of missing military personnel. Sergeant Maupin, Major Woods and Captain Cornelius went to war with the knowledge that their country would do everything possible to bring them home again. We have the same obligation to all military personnel who remain unaccounted for, with no regard for the expense, or how long it might take.


Chris Mayhew said...

That reads like a parody of what you'd expect from a place like Yale. "We place too much emphasis on having a body to bury." Good grief.

Furthermore, that's a very quick and slippery slope. During the battle that insued for the recovery of Robers a PJ was struck and presumed dead, however he was not actually checked for a pulse. Turns out he was probably alive and was killed later. When do you decide "we're not going to get that guy"?

fmfnavydoc said...

It's obvious that the profs at Yale have not served in uniform - and they don't have a clue behind the concept of "no man left behind".

Those of us who have served know what it is - we take care of each other, in good times and in bad, regardless of the circumstances. That guy or gal that you may not like at work or in the barracks may be the person in the foxhole next to you - and you have to rely on them to get out of the mess that you are in. We train as a team, and we win or lose as a team. We honor those that have given their lives in the service of our country by being there for their family in their hour of need. Does Yale, Exxon, IBM, Microsoft or other companies do that for their employees?

I had the duty of being the decedent affairs coordinator for the hospital at MCAGCC 29 palms. I made it my number one priority to make sure that the deceased Marine or Sailor was taken care of and ready to go home to his/her family the way that I would want it to happen to me if I had died on active duty. We ask the members of our Military to do so much, especially in this time - the least we should do is to make sure that we account for all of our fallen and send them home with the dignity and respect that is due to them.

SwampWoman said...

It is very sad that those people have no concept of honor or duty.

infantry_scout11b said...

I think that unless you have been a part of a group of people that train and prepare to go to war, and rely solely on each other for their own lives, you can not possible understand the idea behind leaving no man behind. When you rely on somebody to keep you alive, and vice versa, you develop a brotherhood stronger than blood.

Its not that our country sacrifices lives in search for a fallen man, it is our troops that volunteer to give their life for their brother.

I am proud of the tradition and I would willingly lay down my life if it meant bringing my brother home to his family, dead or alive.

Unknown said...

I think if you re-read the Yale article you'll find some analysis that actually supports the "no man left behind" code of conduct, and that some of the Yalites do get it. The real issue though, and I see this in a lot of the comments,is that military people- and I'm a Ranger Creed reciting member of this faction - are often the worst at assessing themselves and their organizations critically when it comes to these deeply embedded issues. The "no man left behind" code of conduct is hardly the type of unemotional issue that us military professionals would find worthy of compromise, but just think about, fly on instruments, before you leap at the jugulars of the academics. Our community is better off when we attempt to embrace these contrarian ideas, and THEN reject them and come back home.

Jordan Inman said...

The knowledge that his brothers will come and get him and never give up until they accomplish that mission, is what allows the Soldier to put his life on the line for his mission. That's why we will never leave a fallen comrade. And that's why someone who would never put his life on the line for another man will never understand it.