Story by SSgt Apryl Hall on 04/02/2019Puerto Rico Native Searches for America's Missing Service Members
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Two (CW2) Jose A. Colon Feliciano joined the Army in 2000. For the past two years, Colon has served as the officer in charge of the Research Investigation Team (RIT) at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) based out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
In that capacity, Colon leads the RIT team of 9-12 DPAA members on Joint Field Activities in the country of Vietnam. The missions may last up to 50 days, and take place up to five times per year. The purpose of their work is integral in DPAA's mission of providing the fullest possible accounting of our missing personnel to their families and the nation.
During a typical mission, Colon's team collects, analyzes and integrates all available information to develop field investigation plans and schemes of maneuver for future recovery operations. In other words, as part of the RIT, the team is in charge of interviewing witnesses, surveying land, and essentially gathering any evidence they can in hopes of correlating the site to a record of loss of a U.S. service member in order to recommend for future excavation.
"My job is important because we are providing the families of thousands who are still missing from this war with the closure that we're doing everything we can to find their loved one," Colon said.
The job takes Colon all over the country of Vietnam, from mountaintops to jungles to rice paddies. Whether the missions are all memorable or not, there are never two days that are alike, he said.
One particular favorite moment of his involved bringing two South Korean veterans from the Vietnam War to a site as first-hand witnesses to a case. They had been aboard an American UH-1 Huey that crashed and helped Colon's team identify the correct location of the crash, among other important details to the case.
"At the end of our work day, the Koreans held a special memorial ceremony for the men who died that day," Colon said. "It was a special experience to be part of."
Despite moments like that, most workdays consist of a lot of hard work in the Vietnam heat. Hiking, surveying, metal detecting, and digging. And the work continues in to the evening, as anything found on site must be linked to a missing U.S. service member with well-written reports.
Colon knows the work is meaningful to so many people in America.
"What I would say to these family members is that I am going to personally do everything I can," Colon said. "Lift every leaf on the ground, move every rock, climb whatever mountain we have to climb, fly wherever we have to fly to find their loved one."
Colon will end his military career next year, as he will retire after 20 years of service. Having DPAA as his last assignment will end his career on a very high note, having served in the most humbling job he has and will ever have, he said.
Colon is a graduate of Colegio San Coronado and Universidad Catolica in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
For more information about DPAA, visit www.dpaa.mil, find us on social media at www.facebook.com/dodpaa, or call 703-699-1420/1169.