It is the mind-set of the American public that whenever a member of the U.S. military is captured by the enemy, the Pentagon will move heaven and hell — as well as purgatory if necessary — to get that person back.
“Leave no one behind” is a core value of the U.S. military.
This is the risky realm of personnel recovery, and it extends to U.S. diplomats as well; the 1980 failure to rescue the 52 U.S. hostages held by Iran will never be forgotten by anyone who lived through it. Eight troops didn’t, and that failure doomed President Carter’s re-election hopes.
Where does this mind-set come from? Air Force Colonel Lee Pera, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, and two of his colleagues trace the importance of this mission in the latest issue of Air & Space Power Journal:
The American people share this ethos, fully expecting that if any of our personnel are isolated or detained, we will make every effort to get them back. This enduring moral imperative remains an essential element of the way that our nation fights its wars.
The key reason the military will move heaven and earth to get its people back is pretty straightforward: if the American people ever sensed that their leaders viewed the nation’s fighting men and women as expendables like ammo, public support for military missions would evaporate.
Like the threat of an IED — a crude but effective weapon — capturing troops or kidnapping civilians may become a new way of waging war, Pera & Co. warn:
Historically, we have considered our military aircrews and special operations forces as those most at risk. Now we must assume that all of our people are potentially in danger worldwide.