Five Questions with Project RecoverNovember 7, 2019
Project Recover supports the work of the U.S. Government Defense MIA/POW Accounting Agency (DPAA) in identifying and repatriating Americans missing in action, in order to provide closure for families and the country. On November 9, 2019, we welcomed Dr. Pat Scannon, Director of Project Recover, into Hangar 37 where we heard their story first hand.
Q & A with Dr. Pat Scannon, Director of Project Recover
1. New technology is being created and adapted all the time. How has the rise of rapid innovation made your work easier?
When we first started, our tools underwater were scuba gear and on land, machetes. It was a couple of years before I got my first hand-held GPS – which did not even work under the jungle canopy (early antenna technologies). In 1993, there were no cell phones, no internet, no Google – in fact, the only practical line of communication between Palau and the USA was via fax – often with a 12-24 hour delay.
Today, technologies have greatly enhanced our abilities to search and document. Just some examples: Through our Scripps and University of Delaware teams and their underwater robotics, we can cover many square kilometers deep underwater under low visibility settings whereas before we were fortunate to cover a couple hundred square meters – if the visibility permitted.
Digital cameras were not available. For many years after we started, we carried film cameras (I typically would bring 40 rolls on a mission and use every one of them). Now we use high resolution digital cameras on land and underwater and can create 3D models, a form of digital preservation of a site, through our photogrammetry methods. In addition mapping technologies, such as available now from Garmin, combined with apps like Google Earth make it easy to document where we have searched in great detail and real time. We don’t carry paper maps any more – we carry iPads.
Antenna technologies have improved such that we know where we have been even in the deepest jungles. And we are just starting to realize the potential of drone technologies.
All everyday stuff now but amazing from where we started!
2. Engineering, technology and other disciplines that fall under the “sciences” fields of study are sometimes thought of as at odds with history, literature and practices that fall into the “arts” fields of study; yet at Project Recover, professionals from both of these worlds must come together to execute recovery missions. Have there been any lessons through the years about how people from all backgrounds can come together for the greater good?
Having a common mission that the team buys into is the most important element to our successful integration of the “arts” and the “sciences” . Respect and trust follow rapidly when it is seen how the detailed historical and archival data can save precious field time while technologies provide field answers that historians would otherwise never get. We work together to prioritize and execute our missions – our team includes historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, aviation experts, oceanographers, IT experts and other disciplines as needed. But it is the knowledge that we are answering decades-old questions for MIA families, which is the heart of our mission, that binds us together.
3. Many may not realize that Project Recover is a team of mostly volunteer professionals who donate their time to this important mission. What is the most challenging logistical aspect of managing a volunteer team that is spread out across the world?
We have a rigorous staged selection process at the core of which is making sure candidates truly understand Project Recover’s mission and the commitment that goes with it. We understand that our volunteers have “day jobs” and we work with them: some volunteers have gone two years between missions, but we accept that. Having a pool of volunteers with a broad spectrum of expertise allows both our volunteers to participate as available and support our mission.
Having volunteers all over the world (which Project Recover has) is not the logistical nightmare one may envision. The reason is that we conduct missions all over the world so the distances between team members balances out. Also we work hard at communicating with and updating with our volunteers, which is so much easier than even five years ago.
4. What has been your proudest moments at Project Recover?
Finding crash sites that have gone missing for three quarters of a century might seem to be the answer to that question. And there is no doubt that cutting through dense vegetation, or swimming around to coral head to suddenly discover what we have been looking for is exciting. But it is not the aluminum and iron that’s exciting. It is knowing that families, who don’t even know Project Recover might have been working on our discovery for a decade or more, will soon be finding answers and gaining a sense of closure about their long-lost loved ones.
Personally, my proudest moments have been to have the honor of being invited to stand with a (former) MIA family and witness the MIA’s repatriation and its impact on that family.
5. What is your greatest need and how can people get involved, give back and share your mission to honor the families of MIA/POW?
This is a critical time for Project Recover. Through generous donations and support by DPAA and other organizations, Project Recover has expanded from searches in Palau to a truly global operation (17 countries since 2016.) Our greatest need right now is finding a stable and sustainable funding pathway to allow Project Recover to continue its mission for years to come. We have scaled our model and demonstrated success at the global level, so we are also actively looking for partners and collaborators with similar values who are also willing to commit to keeping our nation’s promise of returning our lost service members.
Project Recover has many ways for involving people in our mission. The spectrum exists from donations supporting Project Recover to becoming a team member. Not every team member is a scuba-diving, machete-swinging field operator. Some members support our historical/archival efforts while others work underwater or on land, but not necessarily both. Most important is understanding Project Recover’s mission statement. Contacting us through www.projectrecover.org starts the process!