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Sheppard sergeant finds understanding of career while searching for remains

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Szczechowski
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
When an Army Golden Knight parachuted to the ground Saturday during Sheppard's Salute to America's Joint War Fighters, cradling the familiar black Prisoner of War/Missing in Action banner in his arms, the spectacle must have evoked many different thoughts and feelings among the thousands of spectators on hand.

None of the emotions, though, could have been quite the same as Tech. Sgt. Tisha Gilmore's must have been. The 361st Training Squadron aircrew life support instructor just returned to Sheppard in August after spending 33 days in Laos searching with others for the remains of U.S. servicemembers still missing in action since the Vietnam War.

"I was working during the air show, and I saw the POW/MIA flag up in the air," she said. "It definitely made an impact on me."

Sergeant Gilmore was selected by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, located on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, to be a part of a 10-person team selected to survey the site of an A-26A Invader crash. The mission was to uncover personal effects and potential remains of Americans missing in action.

She was chosen in part because of her career field and because she had successfully completed additional education within her job specialty, a life science investigation course. Once the course was finished, Sergeant Gilmore went to the JPAC Web site, volunteered for the special duty assignment and filled out an application. She was then selected by the JPAC command life support superintendent from a list of available candidates.

After leaving Texas and flying into Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, and in-processing, she flew with her team to Thailand. She was the only Air Force member, joined by personnel from the Army, Navy and Marines, and a civilian anthropologist. After two nights there, they arrived in Laos.

The first couple of days in Laos were spent surveying the aircraft accident site, which included building a work station on scene and a nearby rest area for day-to-day operations. Then came the arduous task of clearing away approximately 40 years of trees, brush and grass that had grown over the landscape of the A-26A crash site.

Once the anthropologist, Dennis Danielson, and an Army mortuary affairs person developed a grid of the area, Mr. Danielson set the ground rules and the team literally got down and dirty, digging and filtering loads of soil through screens, all the while keeping a keen eye out for potentially important discoveries.

"We would dig until we reached what was called sterile ground," Sergeant Gilmore said. She explained this was the point beneath the earth's surface that was not impacted by the crash. In other words, an area not likely to contain any remnants or evidence.

Getting to that ground could mean digging for several inches in outlying areas, or toiling away until trenches grew to as much as six feet deep.

She said the efforts of the JPAC team uncovered clues that could prove fruitful later on.

"We found aircraft parts and possible human remains, which are still being tested back at the lab in Hawaii," she said.

Sergeant Gilmore said she felt honored to be chosen as a JPAC team member and that it was rewarding to take part in the JPAC mission to Laos.

"It was very well worthwhile, even if it meant being away from my family for almost 60 days," she said. "It was worth every bit of it. It's not something that everyone gets to do."

She also related how actually searching for the remains of aircrew members made her realize how important her aircrew life support duties are.

"It's unique in that I had this opportunity since we work so closely with aircrews on a daily basis. Being a part of this made me feel more proud of my job," she said. "It helped me appreciate firsthand why we do what we do - taking every serial number down on equipment, why we put information on inspection cards that are put with the aircrew's gear. If that gear is on the ground, that person who was wearing the gear is there, too."

JPAC's motto is "Until they are home." One Sheppard member had a chance to live and breathe those words, calling her JPAC experience "a once in a lifetime thing." She said that anyone who gets the chance to do what she did should seize the opportunity. Once they do the black POW/MIA flag will never again look quite the same. For more information visit JPAC's Website at