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Robert E. Mitchell Center for RPOW Studies

The Robert E. Mitchell Center for Prisoner of War Studies is a special program* of the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute (NAMI). As such the RE Mitchell Center provides follow up evaluations of repatriated prisoners of war (RPW) from Vietnam, Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, to study the mental and physical effects of captivity and to address the findings' applicability to current military operations. A unique institution, it singularly holds the longitudinal database of the long term effects of repatriated RPWs and its Comparison Group.

*USC Title 10, Section 1501-1513
DoDI 3002.03 (Jul 2013/Apr 2016): DoD Personnel Recovery-Reintegration of Recovered Personnel
Joint Publication 3-50(Aug 2023): Personnel Recovery
OPNAVINST 1000.24D (Jan 2019): Personnel Recovery
NAVPERSCOMINST 1000.24 (Nov 2022): NAVPERSCON Personnel Recovery Phase III Reintegration Program



Honoring and keeping the faith to a grateful Nation’s warriors, the RE Mitchell Center’s mission has remained steady and true ever since Operation Homecoming (1973). The course is guided by:


Vision: An American team of physically healthy and psychologically strong warriors, families, and civilians whose resilience and physical fitness enables them to survive/perform and thrive in both the military and civilian sectors and to meet a wide range of operational demands.

Mission: Provide evidence-based, captivity-related, medical lessons learned in order to equip and train medical and line/fleet forces for real world operations.

Goal: Determine the long term physical and psychological effects related to POW internment.


  • Provide study results to the Department of Defense for integration into training future warriors
  • Develop, propose, and conduct retrospective and prospective studies
  • Build captivity-related longitudinal medical and psychological database
  • Provide results to repatriated prisoner of war, enabling routine health maintenance and disability documentation
  • Conduct medical and psychological evaluations on repatriated prisoners of war, the control group, and germane eligible beneficiaries

The RE Mitchell Center subject matter expertise is recognized. The Executive Director serves as an advisor to the Congressionally mandated VA Advisory Committee on Former Prisoners of War and works closely with the VA on POW related matters including identifying medical and psychological conditions related to captivity.

The Mitchell Center’s recent work on bone density resulted in the VA’s adapting a new POW-specific service-connected presumptive diagnosis of osteoporosis for disability compensation.

The Mitchell Center provided the Navy and Air Force medical and psychological information for adjudicating applications for Combat-Related Special Compensation. It also helped design the Emotional Fitness Training module of the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier & Family Fitness Program.

In 2018, the REMC augmented its course with a new operational orientation, one which directly supports Commanders and the warfighter. REMC has integrated deeper into the broader Personnel Recovery and Reintegration community, serving as an Agency and/or Activity medical subject matter expert and research capability.  It contributed to the new DoD repatriation instructions and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency’s plans for repatriation of future American POWs.  As such, the REMC’s expanded vision finds near perfect alignment with the US Navy Surgeon General’s first-ever Campaign Order.

Our Team

John P. Albano, MD, MPH—Program Director
John P. Albano received his medical degree from the University of South Dakota School of Medicine, master’s in public health from the University of Texas School of Public Health at San Antonio, and Aerospace Medicine training at Brooks AFB.  Dr Albano has 25 years of combined clinical, research, academic, and executive medicine experience in US Army aerospace medicine and 11 years working with the RPWs aboard NAS-Pensacola, FL.  Dr Albano is board certified in Aerospace Medicine, certified as a Level III Science and Technology Manager, trained as Contracting Officer Representative,  and received Human Research Subject Use training.  He is a Fellow of the Aerospace Medical Association and received honors from the Army Medical Department Regiment, Society of US Army Flight Surgeons, Army Aviation Association of America, and Army Space Professionals Association.  Dr Albano military certifications include Master Flight Surgeon, Level 2 Space Professional, Code of Conduct, Fundamentals of Personnel Recovery, Introduction to Reintegration, and Survival, Evasion, Resists, and Escape (SERE) Level-C.
LT Jacob R. Westerberg, MSC, USN – Research Lead
Lieutenant Jacob Westerberg earned his Ph.D. and M.A. in Organizational Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, San Diego. He also holds an M.A. in International Psychology (with Distinction) from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and a B.A. in Political Science (with Honors) from the University of California, Riverside. In September of 2021, Lieutenant Westerberg received his direct commission to the Medical Service Corps as a Research Psychologist and reported to his first duty station at Naval Aerospace Medical Institute in Pensacola, Florida. Lieutenant Westerberg serves as Associate Director of Research for the Robert E. Mitchell Center for Repatriated Prisoners of War Studies. He also serves as Vice Chair for Navy Medicine Operational Training Command’s Scientific and Ethical Review Committee and as a Core Faculty member in the ACGME Residency in Aerospace Medicine program. His additional military training includes completion of the Division Officer Leadership Course and Survival, Evasion, Resists, and Escape (SERE) Level-C.

POW Background

During the Vietnam conflict, POWs suffered malnutrition, general abuse, and various types of torture.  In the North, the torture appeared to have been “standardized” and designed to provide the maximum of pain and discomfort with the minimum of obvious physical traces.  Very restrictive restraints and unusually extreme (ie; against the joint) posture would be used on a daily basis.

Despite this adversity and isolation, the POWs maintained a code of conduct.  They also developed various forms of communication; the TAP Code was the cornerstone.  Through command, control, and communication, the POWs demonstrated remarkable preservation and resilience.

Former POWs have been successful in later years counting among their numbers Members of Congress, Members of State Government, Officials in the Veterans Administration, the first Ambassador to Hanoi and various successful businessmen.

Ropes and over-extended limbs torture.

Rope marks on biceps and forearms
from ropes torture and resulting wrist drop.

"Manacles" originally designed for much smaller wrists

"Tap Code"

Illustrations are courtesy of Captain Mike McGrath, USN (Ret)



The Mitchell Center has its roots in the 1000 Aviator Study. The 1940 Program gave the Navy its first comprehensive look at personal attributes of successful student aviators. From it, better aviation selection standards were created.

With the anticipated end of hostilities in Vietnam, planning for a Center for Prisoner of War Studies (CPWS) at Point Loma, California began in 1971. During Operation Homecoming, 660 United States Military POWs were repatriated from South East Asia prisons between January and May 1973. The Department of Defense mandated a five-year  five-year program for all the services to evaluate the effect of captivity among the repatriated POWs (RPWs).

The Navy and Marine Corps personnel were seen at the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory. In 1978, the CPWS Charter ended and the Navy and Marine Corps records were archived. The evaluations, however, were transferred to and continued at the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute (NAMI). NAMI later became subordinate to the Naval Operational Medicine Institute, which later became the Navy Medicine Operational Training Center.

Captain Robert E Mitchell was the cornerstone of the program. He was integral to the 1000 Aviator Study, involved in the planning of the CPWS, and performed the RPW evaluations until 1990, when he finally retired. As a result of CAPT Mitchell’s vision and singular effort, the Mitchell Center expertise was recognized, Army and Air Force Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom RPWs, Somalia and Bosnia hostages/detainees, and program funding were added.


  • 1940 1000 Aviator Study begins
  • 1970 1000 Aviator Study concludes
  • 1973 Original DoD 5-year Charter for Prisoner of War (POW) Studies
  • 1976 A Navy matched Comparison Group was added
  • 1978 The Air Force and Army end their part of the Original POW Studies, the Navy (ie CAPT Mitchell) continues
  • 1991 Operation Desert Storm Repatriates added, 21 all services
  • 1992 VA $100,000 Grant to document and publish long term health effects on Naval aviators
  • 1993 Air Force authorized their former Vietnam repatriated POWs
  • 1996 Congress appropriates $1,000,000 to establish a Center for Prisoner of War Studies.
  • 1997 Army authorized their former Vietnam repatriated POWs
  • 1998 Congress appropriates a second $1,000,000 to continue support of research for the RPOW program
  • 1998 Dedication of Bldg 3933 as the REM Center for POW Studies
  • 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom Repatriates added, 8 Army
  • 2004 Department of Navy-Robert E Mitchell Foundation, Inc MOU allows gifting of money, IAW SECNAVINST 4001.2G, to the Robert E Mitchell Center for POW Studies
  • 2010 Hostages/Detainees from Somalia & Bosnia are also eligible for participation
  • 2023 50 years of Freedom (Anniversary of Operation Homecoming)

Robert E. Mitchell Bio

CAPT Robert E. Mitchell

CAPT Robert E. Mitchell graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1942, and received his medical degree from the McGill University Faculty of Medicine in Montreal, Canada in 1947. Performing his internship and residency at the U.S. Naval Hospitals in San Diego and Oakland, he attended the Army Medical Service Graduate School at Walter Reed Army Medical Center before being designated a Naval Flight Surgeon at Naval Air Station Pensacola in 1955. His career included service ashore and afloat, including duty as Senior Medical Officer on the carrier Shangri-La (CVA 38), Staff Medical Officer for the First Marine Aircraft Wing in Vietnam, and Senior Medical Officer and Commanding Officer of the U.S. Naval Hospital at NS Rota, Spain. He accumulated 2,000 flight hours, including many under combat conditions.

Furthermore, he spent fifteen years in various posts at the U.S. Naval School of Aviation Medicine, and Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, culminating with command of the latter. During this time, he played the leading role in the "Thousand Aviator Study", and a program of medical evaluation of repatriated Vietnam prisoners of war, both landmark studies that have contributed immeasurably to the medical field.

After 44 years of selfless dedicated service, CAPT Mitchell retired. "Doc" Mitchell is well respected by the RPWs and is known for his classic house calls to area RPWs and telephone consultations to those geographically distant. He is a Fellow of the Aerospace Medical Association and Royal Society of Medicine. "Doc" Mitchell was made an Honorary Naval Aviator June 1990.

Coin Challenge

"REMC Commemorative Challenge Coin"

The Robert E Mitchell Center (REMC) for Prisoner of War (POW) Studies Logo was created as a special program insignia to commemorate both the hardships endured by POWs and the REMC’s unwavering medical support to those selfless yet distinguished Repatriated Prisoners of War (RPWs).  The challenge coin was created to memorialize the individual, CAPT Robert E Mitchell, whose singular vision and sheer audacity enabled an unbroken (since 1973) dedicated service to those who suffered as a POW.


On a 1 ½ inches diameter 2-sided circular brass device, the obverse shows a bas-relief image of CAPT Robert E Mitchell encircled by a rope-design border depicting his association with the Navy.  The reverse is an enameled colored logo encircled by the inscription Robert E Mitchell Center POW Studies.


The logo is highly symbolic in that the background is adopted from the ribbon of the POW Medal.  The unchained bald eagle, an embodiment of the American POW spirit, stands with pride and dignity. 


Below the bald eagle is a yellow ribbon inscribed with Never Forgotten.  A bold proclamation that not only did REMC desire for a speedy and safe return of those interned, but upon repatriatization, acted in fulfilling a grateful Nation’s promise to care for him who have borne the battle and endured harsh captivity.


Overlaying the yellow ribbon is a serpent entwined staff, the rod of Aesculapius, which is a symbol of medicine administered by a physician, in this case, a flight surgeon.  The two together resemble a Caduceus, a winged staff with two entwined serpents, which is recognized to be a larger military health care system. 


In this larger setting, the single serpent indicates the multidiscipline REMC’s singular commitment and dedication to supporting the RPWs and providing lessons learned for future military training and operations.

Products/Annual Medical Evaluation

The ongoing retrospective longitudinal study is based on the annual medical and neuropsychological evaluation parameters of the Original POW Studies Charter.  The medical and psychological information are provided to the repatriated POWs to aid in their routine health maintenance and disability documentation.

The extensive age-depended evaluation includes:
  • Comprehensive routine lab screening testing
  • 12-Lead Electrocardiogram and 10 sec Rhythm Strip
  • Pulmonary function testing
  • Chest X-ray
  • Bone density scan
  • Extended History and Physical evaluation
  • Neuropsychological evaluation
  • Ophthalmology evaluation
  • Otolaryngology evaluation
  • Neurological consultation
  • Orthopedic consultation
  • Dermatological consultation 
Depending on a particular study design, other parameters were added for that study.  They included:
  • MRI
  • Graded Exercise Test
  • Echocardiograms
  • Carotid and abdominal ultrasounds
  • 12-hour urine tests
  • Specific serum indicators
  • Telomeres
  • Insulin levels
The benefit in the longitudinal study goes far beyond taking care of the immediate needs of these national heroes.
  • Lessons learned used extensively today in SERE. (i.e., Survival, Evasion, Resistance, & Escape) training
  • Information developed used by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for presumptive diagnoses and adjudicating compensable disabilities
  • Stress Research may be used to guide selection and training of personnel for high stress environments
  • Provide insights into basic disease processes
  • Collaborative research good for the Command, Navy Medicine, Navy, and Department of Defense
  • Training for medical department personnel of all Services assigned to operational billets who might be involved in the repatriation process


Findings of Collaborative Study