By Lori M. Quiller, AFCLC Outreach Team, AFCLC
/ Published September 01, 2021
U.S. Space Force Master Sgt. Hanh Le, a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency recovery team linguist, prepares to catch a bucket during a recovery mission in Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, June 29, 2021. DPAA’s mission is to achieve the fullest possible accounting for missing and unaccounted-for U.S. personnel to their families and our nation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan McElderry)
Language Enabled Airman Program Scholar and U.S. Space Force Master Sgt. Hanh Le first heard of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in 2016 when she was stationed in Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, interning to a three-year National Security Agency Military Electronic Signals Analyst Program.
“I received an email calling for Vietnamese linguists to support the DPAA recovery mission based on my DLPT score records,” Le explained. “It was the first time I learned of DPAA and its mission, and that was the start of my commitment to support the POW/MIAs Recovery Missions in Vietnam. For this specific mission, I went for the first time as a LEAP Scholar and a Guardian to represent LEAP, the Air Force Culture and Language Center, and the U.S. Space Force. In addition, I was the only Guardian on this 143rd Joint Field Activity.”
DPAA’s mission is to achieve the fullest possible accounting for missing and unaccounted-for U.S. personnel to their families and our nation. According to DPAA, since 1973, the remains of more than 1,000 Americans killed in the Vietnam War have been identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors. In addition, for more than two decades, the U.S. has conducted joint field activities with the governments of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to recover the remains of missing Americans. Throughout these countries, field teams continue to investigate crash and burial sites and interview locals to gain additional knowledge. The U.S. also continues to obtain access to historical wartime records and archives that provide information relevant to the fates of missing Americans.
Today, more than 1,500 Americans remain unaccounted for from the conflict.
Le has supported five DPAA Recovery Missions in Vietnam so far, receiving a Joint Service Achievement Medal and a nomination for a Joint Commendations Medal for her work, calling it “nothing short of life-changing.”
“My first mission had lasting impacts on me,” Le said. “I’ve truly internalized the values of being an expeditionary Airman/Guardian, fit to fight at anytime, anywhere. I’ve internalized the importance of contributing, elevating teammates, and bringing values to the team. I’ve realized the importance of unitedness, sticking together through thick and thin even when we agreed to disagree, even though we are so diverse with different personalities and preferences...but sharing the same mission goal/objective. I’m so glad that I was able to utilize my knowledge, skills and experience to help my team.”
One thing Le and her team did, before leaving the mission in Vietnam, was organize a special farewell operation to show their appreciation to the residents of the area. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the group was unable to host a traditional end-of-mission farewell party. Still, the team witnessed first-hand the life struggles of the local families every day. So, Le led the charge for the #ShareYourHearts campaign.
“I led the donations of non-perishable food items, toiletries, to include health and beauty products, shoes, clothing, and gear from my team; and voluntary cash donations, which I used to coordinate the purchase of more food and non-alcoholic drinks at the nearest town – almost an hour away – for the local workers. All donations totaled around $1,700,” Le said.
Le, who was born and raised in Vietnam until she was 14 years old, plans to continue her service to the United States military and those who gave their lives in service of their country.
“In 1996, I was fortunate to move to the U.S., learned English and the culture, then became a citizen in 2002. I started my Air Force service in 2005. Growing up in Vietnam, then becoming a U.S. citizen and a service member, and having had five opportunities to serve as a linguist to recover the POW/MIAs who made the final sacrifices to defend freedom…I feel like I’ve made a full circle in fulfilling both personal responsibilities/commitments and our nation’s promise. If there are more opportunities to serve in this capacity in the future, I’d love to continue my tireless service,” Le said.
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