AFCLC, Air Force Culture and Language Center, Air Force's Global Classroom

Fallen soldier recovery rebuilds connections in Laos

  • Published
  • By Mikala McCurry, AFCLC Outreach Team

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency travels worldwide for missions to recover fallen soldiers from historical conflicts. Many service members volunteer with DPAA to help further the organization’s mission and bring closure to the families of the fallen. For service members like Language Enabled Airman Program Scholar Master Sergeant Bounthai Chanthala, supporting DPAA provides multi-layered fulfillment. 

Working with DPAA in Laos allowed Master Sgt. Chanthala to utilize his language skills in a joint environment as the liaison between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Laos People Democratic Republic and the U.S. Recovery team. He gained insight on the current geo-political temperature between Laos and the U.S. government while determining the host nation’s willingness to cooperate, assist, and aid in recovery efforts.

“I was able to work with a multi-service team in a joint environment facilitating communication with the host nation in the efforts to locate, recover and repatriate our MIA service members. This directly translated to helping me grow as a SNCO, as someone who is currently working in a joint environment at Brooke Army medical center,” he said. “I was able to build on my ability to work in a joint environment with different services to accomplish our shared mission.”

Chanthala was previously assigned to DPAA as a Lao linguist filling one of two Air Force billets. Once he was assigned to a new organization, DPAA’s ability to complete missions in Laos became more difficult as he was the last full-time Air Force Lao linguist assigned to the organization. Because of LEAP, Chanthala and other Lao Scholars can help DPAA revitalize their recovery missions in Laos.

“The Lao mission is also a unique situation, as the linguists must not only be qualified on our end, but they also must be approved by the Lao government. Utilizing the Lao linguists in LEAP is an avenue to mitigate manning shortages. With LEAP’s help, the agency can continue to provide the fullest accounting for our POW/MIA service members,” Chanthala explained. “We are building a relationship through a common mission and engagement that enhances our current policies within the region.”

Even before working with DPAA, he had a deep connection and familial ties with Laos from historical conflicts that he was able to reconnect, reconcile, and renew commitment to after this mission.

“It has broadened my perspective in both life and military career . . . As a refugee from this secret war, I was able to reconcile my emotions and my past. I was able to see a people who have lived through a terrible past, forgive and assist those who were once responsible for the painful memories and scarred landscape. I am humbled and honored every time I am able to assist in this mission,” Chanthala said.

The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation. For more information, visit

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