Army Capt. Jordan Smith is spending most of his days sifting through dirt for human remains and personal effects of World War II service members in northern Germany.
"It is truly and honor and a privilege to have this job and is something that I am thankful to be part of each and every day," he said, speaking of the work he and the 25-person team he is leading is doing for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
The agency, which is part of the Defense Department, searches in 45 countries for missing service members from World War II and later conflicts, including the Korean War, Vietnam War and Desert Storm.
Once remains are recovered and the agency's laboratory determines the person's identity through DNA analysis and other means of identification, the service member's family is notified and arrangements are made for a military funeral.
Smith's work has taken him to remote areas throughout Southeast Asia, including Laos and Vietnam.
His team is now seeking to recover remains of the 10 airmen flying in a B-24H Liberator bomber, which was presumably shot down by the enemy while returning from a bombing run during World War II.
I feel like there's no better way to give back to my country than to do a job like this. It's been the best experience of my life. It's something that I will treasure for the rest of my life, working with great people for the common goal of bringing back our fallen comrades."
Army Capt. Jordan Smith, team leader, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency
The team is still in the early stage of the mission, recovering parts of the aircraft and the airmen's personal effects, among other items.
The work is emotional, he said.
"It's our job as a team to stay focused and remain driven," he said, meaning not letting personal emotions of those missing get in the way of doing the job.
"Our job here is to excavate to the fullest potential and to provide the fullest possible accounting to the service members who never made it home and to their families," he said.
Smith's specialty in the Army is field artillery. When the option of working with the agency as a broadening assignment became available, Smith snapped it up.
"It was a dream job. I was fortunate enough to be selected," he said. The 29-year-old Oceanside, Calif., native has a wife and son who are awaiting his return at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. Being away from family is the only downside of the job, he said. But that's the normal life of a military family.
For now, the team in Germany is Smith's family. "I enjoy interacting with people. I enjoy being a part of a team, having a shared end-goal and creating camaraderie, purpose and direction for the team."
Although Smith directs the team, he said he learns from all the others. He said the team has good dynamics, and they bring out the best in each other.
"Everyone works regardless of rank and position. As for myself, I'll be out there shoveling dirt and running buckets with the rest of the team. It's all hands–on deck," he said.
"I feel like there's no better way to give back to my country than to do a job like this. It's been the best experience of my life. It's something that I will treasure for the rest of my life, working with great people for the common goal of bringing back our fallen comrades," he said.
Smith added that when teams search for remains of the missing in other countries, it demonstrates to the host nation the values that America holds dear.