Blood spatters cover the walls and bloody hand prints can be seen on the door. The room is a gruesome aftermath of a horrific event. Someone must collect evidence to determine what happened at this crime scene and those responsible must be held accountable.
These and similar kinds of scenes, including discovering improvised explosive device labs, have become all too familiar to our service members serving on the front lines in Afghanistan, and identifying those responsible has become priority No. 1.
Hosted by the 4th Combat Camera Squadron, a mobile training team consisting of seven instructors taught 38 airmen, two sailors and a Marine how to collect and process biometric evidence here July 22 to 26.
Battlefield forensics is a material collection process designed specifically for the troops in the field who are fighting terrorism on the front lines. Students are trained on basic skills for known and latent print lifting, DNA collection, special photography techniques and proper documentation practices – and to do all of this quickly and efficiently.
Students range from combat camera personnel to mechanics, law enforcement, cooks, riflemen, route clearance members, and explosive ordinance disposal technicians.
“The nature of the course is the integration of forensics and biometric skill sets for students of different military occupational specialties,” said Mark Fields, forensic technician and senior instructor. This course turns conventional service members into crime scene investigators for the military.
One airman from the 4th CTCS who has been through the course before unexpectedly found himself in a situation where using these skills was necessary.
“I took battlefield forensics in 2010 thinking I would never use the skills,” said U.S Air Force Reserve Staff Sgt. Jonathan Garcia, broadcast journalist, 4th CTCS. “In 2012, when I deployed to the Horn of Africa, I was tasked to assist an accident investigation board. The skills I learned from battlefield forensics helped me be more comfortable when I was thrust into the role. Materials like the collection bags and scales from the forensics kit I brought proved to be an invaluable asset to the board as we documented the site.”
Similarly other classmates agree learning battlefield forensics will be a helpful and valuable tool to have overseas.
“Now I have another area of expertise,” said U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Jose Castellon, a Los Angeles native and photographer at Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego.
“It’s teaching me a lot more of the investigative side of things, whereas with combat camera we are doing more documentation of personnel and exercises – this is more equipment and getting information from material versus people,” said Castellon, a 10-year military veteran who’s deployed to Iraq, Thailand, Mongolia, Australia and the Philippines. “It’s a very, very good training exercise, I’m having a blast.”
Marvin Whitfield, forensics expert and team leader for the Six3 Systems Battlefield Forensics Mobile Training Course, stated that the training makes a military member a more valuable asset while down range.
“Personnel are on target doing their primary function and they come across an improvised explosive device, that individual can switch hats and effectively accomplish site biometrics and forensics exploitation,” he said.
Six3 Systems instructors have been teaching this course for the past five years. Combined, the cadre have more than 200 years of experience. Many of the instructors have career law enforcement and forensics backgrounds, as well as graduate degrees, and they understand the importance of continuing training.
This training was required to help service members identify insurgents who are creating problems in any theater of operations. Whether stateside or deployed overseas, battlefield forensics training could be used to process quality site exploitation evidence, forensics, and biometrics material from any scene they come across either individually or as a team, said Fields.
“I’m really learning a lot,” said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonah Stepanik, a Riverside, Calif., native and mass communications specialist at Fleet Combat Camera Pacific, Coronado, Calif., who has deployed to the Philippines in his two years in the Navy. “Battlefield forensics has taught me to be more analytical [when] I approach sites or scenes. It seems like I’m moving more efficiently and saving time, even though I’m more analytical and have the ‘forensic eye,’ as they call it. I’m looking for things you wouldn’t normally look for and seeing things you wouldn’t normally see. It’s a great opportunity to get training we can’t get elsewhere.”
Fields said another reason this training is so necessary is because we are not fighting a uniformed army.
“We are fighting people who blend easily into their environment: local nationals,” he said. “What we needed was a way to help identify those people … with fingerprints, DNA and photographs so that we can identify people who were causing issues, like bomb makers, bomb placers, and whoever is helping buy the material to make devices. They needed a way to not only identify them, but use the information gathered for criminal prosecution.”
By doing so, forensics technicians can take away the anonymity of not only the insurgent in the battle space, but also activists who that are playing a secondary role in generating terrorist support and activity, said Fields.
Only two percent of the entire U.S. military has ever received this one-of-a-kind training.