News>Air Force Mortuary Affairs branch unites family of missing Airman
Maj. Gen. Duane A. Jones presents the U.S. flag to Joan Bergsteinsson and Alan Brink, cousins of missing in action service member Maj. Richard G. Elzinga, July 8, 2011, at Arlington National Cemetery. Elzinga was repatriated at a graveside inurnment service where members of the Bolling Air Force Base Honor Guard rendered military funeral honors. General Jones is the director of Resource Integration, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Installations and Mission Support. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Pamela Stauffer)
Members of the Bolling Air Force Base Honor Guard drape the U.S. flag over Maj. Richard D. Elzinga's casket during a graveside inurnment service July 8, 2011, at Arlington National Cemetery. The service includes full military honors for missing in action service members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Pamela Stauffer)
Bolling Air Force Base Honor Guard members perform a three-rifle volley during a graveside inurnment service for Maj. Richard G. Elzinga July 8, 2011 at Arlington National Cemetery. Major Elzinga is a repatriated missing in action service member. All repatriated MIAs receive full military honors. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Pamela Stauffer)
by Capt. Pamela Stauffer
Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Public Affairs
7/18/2011 - DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (AFNS) -- Losing a loved one can be one of the most difficult experiences in life, causing family members to make major adjustments to compensate for the loss.
This can be exceptionally difficult for families with loved ones missing in action who have never returned from war.
Members of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Past Conflict Branch bridge the gap for families by providing loved ones with evidence gathered from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command efforts.
Mortuary specialists from AFMAO meet with family members to provide the identification results from JPAC's investigation of service members missing in action from the Korean and Vietnam wars.
A graveside inurnment service was held for Korean War veteran Maj. Richard Gene Elzinga at Arlington National Cemetery July 8.
"Suddenly, the legend of their missing in action (service member) becomes real to the family," said Tim Nicholson, the chief of the AFMAO entitlements branch.
A loss however, can lead to an unexpected discovery.
"Due to case file analysis, excavation site information, identification analysis and mitochondrial DNA test results from JPAC, about 10 percent of family members are either reacquainted with or discover new family members," Nicholson said.
That was the case for Elzinga's family.
"With DNA evidence unique to Rich (Elzinga) and help from the Internet, we discovered two relatives living in Western Michigan," said Alan Brink, Elzinga's cousin.
Elzinga's family has made several visits to Michigan after discovering the two new relatives live in the same farming community as their grandparents.
"Not only has the Air Force Mortuary Affairs provided critical information on Rich, but Danielle Van Orden (from the AFMAO Past Conflicts Branch) wonderfully guided us through the entire process helping us connect and appreciate people we never knew."
Personnel from the Armed Forces Identification Laboratory, where all DOD DNA is retained, are expanding their identification capabilities to use techniques that will preserve the original piece of evidence.
"We hope the advanced testing methods will improve the repatriation rate so we can continue to exceed care, service and support expectations for families in the coming years," Nicholson said. "It's heartwarming to know that in the midst of loss, we can also grow a family by leading them to relatives previously unknown."
In 2010, members of the Past Conflicts Branch returned eight MIA and project to return another five service members prior to year's end.
7/20/2011 7:30:44 PM ET correction The service members rendering military honors are members of The United States Air Force Honor Guard.
A1C R. Johnson, Bolling AFB Washington D.C.
7/20/2011 2:25:32 PM ET Here's a toast to the host...
Bryan, Pereson AFB
7/19/2011 7:12:52 AM ET The captions are wrong... only the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard performs funerals at ANC not the Bolling AAFB Honor Guard.
KW , DC
7/18/2011 3:37:49 PM ET Finding and explaining to living family members and relatives the missing pieces of personal history about lost loved ones and making in-person presentations is worthy work. Those of us who have lost a relative in military service learn and re-learn this even after decades have passed.
TSgt Benjamin Matwey, New Castle Air National Guard Base Delaware