McKeague takes over at Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command
HONOLULU — Punahou and Damien Memorial boys were front and center Wednesday at a change of command for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, the Hawaii-based military unit that investigates, recovers and identifies Americans missing from past wars.
Maj. Gen. Stephen Tom, a 1967 Punahou grad, stepped down as head of the command and retired from a 41-year Army career.
His replacement is Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague, from Damien's class of 1977, the first Air Force general to lead the 505-member joint-service unit.
McKeague said he felt "humbled and privileged" to take command of JPAC. McKeague also couldn't resist a lighthearted reference to the rivalry between his high school and Tom's.
"To my friend Steve Tom, despite being a Punahou graduate — don't hold that against him — Steve and Diane Tom have built a tremendous legacy here at JPAC," McKeague told between 500 and 600 people who attended the change of command at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
Adm. Samuel Locklear III, head of U.S. Pacific Command at Camp Smith, cited Tom's accomplishments while noting the challenges ahead.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2010 mandated that the Hawaii lab increase identifications of war dead to at least 200 per year by 2015 — more than double last fiscal year's 80 identifications, officials said.
"(Tom) has set the command on a firm path to meet this goal," Locklear said. "He's expanded the development of missions in China, in India, in Burma. He drove the command's expansion with an annex (lab) at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska."
JPAC broke ground last year on a new facility at Hickam, and by 2016 will add more than 250 military and civilian personnel to ensure that the goal of 200 identifications per year is met, Locklear said.
The ongoing search for more than 83,000 still-missing Americans is part of JPAC's mission.
Tom's expertise and experience in Asia and the Pacific "have been invaluable to me and to our strategy and to operations throughout the region," Locklear said.
McKeague, who was born in Liliha and grew up in Papakolea, was a special assistant to the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Tom said at the top of his list of lasting memories at JPAC will be working with the men and women of the command and base-camping with the troops in the stifling heat of Cambodia, leech-infested sites in Vietnam and tropical rain forests at 8,000 feet in Papua New Guinea.
Tom grew up next to Fort Shafter, and it was there that he planned to end his Army career Wednesday.
"Every day as I was growing up, for 10 years, I would hear the bugle and cannon playing retreat," Tom said. "So I just thought it would be fitting to end my career observing a ceremony I had grown up with every day."