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Search for our fallen continues

Vietnamese personnel screen soil as they work alongside Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency members in hopes of recovering parts from a fallen aircraft or service member in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 27, 2017. The local nationals the service members increase the amount of work that is completed throughout the mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

Vietnamese personnel screen soil as they work alongside Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency members in hopes of recovering parts from a fallen aircraft or service member in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 27, 2017. The local nationals are vital to the success of many of the recoveries. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

U.S. service members work alongside Vietnamese personnel to place sandbags on the edge of a tarp to keep the soil inside of excavated units dry in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, June 6, 2016. The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and their nation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

U.S. service members work alongside Vietnamese personnel to place sandbags on the edge of a tarp to keep the soil inside of excavated units dry in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, June 6, 2016. The mission of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and their nation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

Members of the 17-3VM Recovery Team, deployed by Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency (DPAA), excavate soil from a unit as part of a recovery mission in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, June 3, 2017. Since 1973, the remains of more than 1,000 Americans killed in the Vietnam War have been identified and returned to their families for a proper burial with full military honors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

Members of the 17-3VM Recovery Team, deployed by Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency (DPAA), excavate soil from a unit as part of a recovery mission in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, June 3, 2017. Since 1973, the remains of more than 1,000 Americans killed in the Vietnam War have been identified and returned to their families for a proper burial with full military honors. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

Vietnamese personnel transport soil during a recovery operation with members from the Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 27, 2017. DPAA team members deployed to the area in hopes of recovering the remains of a service member unaccounted for from the Vietnam conflict. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

Vietnamese personnel transport soil during a recovery operation with members from the Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency (DPAA) in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 27, 2017. DPAA team members deployed to the area in hopes of recovering the remains of a service member unaccounted for from the Vietnam conflict. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

U.S. Service members and Vietnamese personnel take a break near the wet screening station after searching for a fallen service member from the Vietnamese War in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 27, 2017. The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and their nation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

U.S. Service members with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) and Vietnamese personnel take a break near the wet screening station after searching for a fallen service member from the Vietnamese War in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 27, 2017. The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

Vietnamese personnel screen soil as they work alongside Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency members in hopes of recovering parts from a fallen aircraft or service member in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 27, 2017. The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and their nation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

Vietnamese personnel screen soil as they work alongside Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency (DPAA) members in hopes of recovering parts from a fallen aircraft or service member in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 27, 2017. The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Stienke, Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency recovery NCO, tightens a strap on a litter during medical evacuation training in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 11, 2017. The training provided each member with knowledge of how to properly set up and carry the litter in case someone needed to be evacuated. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Stienke, Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency (DPAA) recovery NCO, tightens a strap on a litter during medical evacuation training in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 11, 2017. The training provided each member with knowledge of how to properly set up and carry the litter in case someone needed to be evacuated. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

U.S. service members work alongside Vietnamese personnel to screen excavated soil as they search for a fallen service member from the Vietnam War in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 21, 2017. The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and their nation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

U.S. service members with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) work alongside Vietnamese personnel to screen excavated soil as they search for a fallen service member from the Vietnam War in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 21, 2017. The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nathan Thady, with the Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency recovery NCO, sharpens a tool prior to excavating soil from the ground in order to find the remains of a fallen service member from the Vietnam War in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 13, 2017. Various tools are used to excavate soil to help find the remains of a missing service member who never returned home to his family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nathan Thady, with the Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency (DPAA) recovery NCO, sharpens a tool prior to excavating soil from the ground in order to find the remains of a fallen service member from the Vietnam War in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 13, 2017. Various tools are used to excavate soil to help find the remains of a missing service member who never returned home to his family. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

U.S. Army Staff Sg. Vince Cruz, Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency mountaineer, completes repelling training with U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Stienke, DPAA recovery NCO, prior to the teams search for a missing service member from the Vietnam War in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 11, 2017. The repel training helps the members ensure the rope properly works and become familiar with the terrain in case personnel needs to be transported using the equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)
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U.S. Army Staff Sg. Vince Cruz, Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency (DPAA) mountaineer, completes repelling training with Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Stienke, DPAA recovery NCO, prior to the team's search for a missing service member from the Vietnam War in Phuoc Son providence, Vietnam, May 11, 2017. The repel training helps the members ensure the rope properly works and become familiar with the terrain in case personnel needs to be transported using the equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan --

Drenched in sweat from the hot, humid Vietnam weather; our shovels breached the earth’s surface excavating the ground and placing it into buckets to be screened as we searched for one of our own.

Most people are familiar with Arlington National Cemetery and its impressive landscape which serves to honor those who have served our nation as a final resting place.

Many though, are unaware of how those who die during a conflict on foreign soil are able to return home.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency with teams of military personnel travel to various conflict regions throughout the world to locate and identify missing service members in order to bring them home and provide them a proper burial.

The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for missing personnel to their families and the nation.

My job as a photographer afforded me the opportunity to travel with DPAA to document the work being done throughout the mission to help in finding a missing soldier.

A few days after arriving in Vietnam, I got my first view of the insect and leech infested mountain side of where I would be working for the next 5 weeks. It was split into two sections; the top half was on almost at a 40 degree angle, and the bottom half was flat with numerous trees throughout.

Leeches and the incessantly humid weather made it difficult, at times, to focus solely on my job. Thankfully, Vietnamese locals were there to aid in the process and it is important to mention that the support from the locals is vital to the success of many of these recoveries.

Our work began with the setup of screening stations to separate the dirt from possible aircraft parts, bones, and other clues that would lead us to the missing member, in this case a soldier. Once completed, our anthropologist set up the areas for us to excavate the dirt.

Multiple personnel were digging at any given moment with a line of people transporting buckets of dirt to the screening stations to sift through it. Upon finding anything that could be aircraft parts or bones we would place them in buckets to be looked at to ensure we were searching in the right area.

I photographed the overall area, each section we dug, people digging, personnel sorting through the dirt, aircraft parts we found, and any other found evidentiary parts while digging and sorting through dirt myself. I documented everything.

Throughout the course of our mission, I along with the other service members were able to interact with the local workers. The language barrier made it difficult for us to properly communicate with each other, but we were able to build a bond with the Vietnamese people we worked with.

We were able to excavate 9,728 cubic meters of earth, unearthing a multitude of aircraft wreckage and possible material evidence that will lead us closer to finding our long lost service member.

Killed in 1968 during the Vietnam War, the missing soldier we were searching for was shot down in the helicopter he was piloting. Unfortunately, three other service members on board lost their lives that same day, however, they were recovered and identified after the crash, returning home for a proper burial.

The experience provided me with some insight of what he and those who served alongside him endured during the war 50 years ago.

Searching for a fallen service member was a very humbling experience and I hope that our work will make it easier for the next team to bring him home to his family and his final resting place, wherever that may be.