Improved training helps forensics team prepare for Afghanistan deployment
Sgt. Chris Fatigan, an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the 22nd Chemical Battalion (Technical Escort), inspects various materials during a Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell exercise at Aberdeen Proving Ground's Warrior Training Center March 10.

When a forensics team from Aberdeen Proving Ground deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan two years ago, they left with four months notice, a crude validation exercise and had a steep learning curve. Today, the officer-in-charge of that team is busy training the new lead and his unit, who will have nine months of individual and group preparatory training with various agencies, as well as weekly contact with the current unit in place before they deploy this summer.

Maj. Anthony Kazor, 22nd Chemical Battalion (Technical Escort), admitted when he deployed as the lab lead of the Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell in 2009, the first 60 days "was drinking by fire hose." As the first OIC for an Army CEXC lab, he's not only seen the gradual improvement in training, but has been part of it.

He recently helped train Capt. Matthew Mason, 22nd Chemical Battalion (TE), and his team of 11 Soldiers and two contractors during a realistic portrayal of what the group can expect during their 12-month deployment. The scenario training took place at the Warrior Training Center, a sparse, concrete building on APG - South. It mirrored some conditions expected downrange where the team will be part of Task Force Paladin, a specialized unit charged with combating IEDs.

During the training the team, that includes experts in biometrics, photography, intelligence, electronics, and explosive ordnance disposal, sectioned off areas of the building as they would in theater. As IEDs, post-blast bomb pieces, hoax devices that look like IED's but have dummy main charges or IED caches are brought in, they go through different labs. First stop, triage with EOD.

An IED might still have explosive material, according to Mason, so EOD technicians examine the evidence and often times use an X-ray machine to ascertain whether anything is still considered dangerous. They document and inventory all items received, enter information into a data base and assign a bar code to track the item. Investigations are prioritized and can take from 24-hours to 28 days before completion.

"They can have multiple cases at the same time," explained Kazor. "Everyone in the lab is employed full time. Everyone is always busy."

During this training, after one and a half days, the team had already begun processing more than 20 cases, all listed on a white board and logged into a book as a double backup system.

After the IED is rendered safe, it goes to the photography lab where the item is photographed from all angles. Photos are entered into the database and included with a report.

While the CEXC lab does tactical level intelligence and analysis on the IEDs, agencies in the U.S. with access to the data base begin reviewing and conduct further analysis at the strategic level. The ultimate goal is to find and apprehend the bomb maker. To assist in this, the IED goes through the remaining CEXC labs - biometric, electronics, and intelligence.

In the biometrics lab experts use law enforcement techniques to draw out information that measure and analyze human body characteristics, such as DNA or fingerprints, then enter their findings into the database. During the electronic evaluation, technical experts can obtain information on an IED even after detonation. Information is again analyzed, evaluated and documented with multiple checks and balances. The OIC and NCOIC review reports to ensure they are filled out and can paint a picture for analysts in theater and abroad. Quick snapshot reports are pushed throughout the theater so warfighters have the latest information.

"Soldiers sometimes find it hard to see the whole picture," said Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy Cruz, NCOIC of the CEXC team preparing to deploy. "Here, right next to each other, you can see the overall impact your job can have on the whole theater."

"They see the evidence of their work when we get reports back saying 'evidence from your discovery led to the processing and arrest of this insurgent and he got this many years of jail time,'" Mason added.

Page last updated Thu March 24th, 2011 at 10:15