Patience, critical thinking important for solving crimes for Reserve special agents
August 17, 2011
LAKELAND, Fla., Aug. 17, 2011 -- Battlefield commanders and their staff spend hours, days and even weeks preparing for combat operations to exploit and destroy their enemies.
For one Army Reserve commander, his mission doesn't involve operation orders, phase lines or flanking movements, but rather a carefully orchestrated movement of Soldiers within an area as small as a shoebox or as large as an entire city.
Their weapon of choice isn't an individual or crew-served weapon but rather something more unique and complex -- a Soldier's patience.
"Our Soldiers have some of the most unique skill sets in the Army," said Chief Warrant Officer Marshall Few, commander of Army Reserve's 383rd Military Police Detachment (Criminal Investigation Division). "Our Reserve CID agents bring an incredible resume from their civilian law enforcement backgrounds."
From criminal investigators to detectives, Few said his team is highly recognized in their career fields, and when they come together during a battle assembly, it's those skills that make the small detachment more valuable to battlefield commanders.
As CID teams arrived at a small parcel of land near the city's power plant, they quickly scanned the surrounding area looking for anything out of the ordinary.
To the untrained eye it could be just bad grass, but to the unique CID team assigned to the 200th Military Police Command, based at Fort Meade, Md., it could be a potential shallow grave of a deceased individual.
"These Soldiers have been trained by some of the best civilian police agencies in the region and the Army," Few said, as he watched his Soldier discussing several potential tactics to the scenario. "As CID agents, we have to look from outside the box and see things differently than the normal Soldier. It's that skill that separates us from the rest of our military counterparts."
Within minutes, the all noncommissioned officer, or NCO, team huddled by the makeshift operations center around the tailgate of a nearby truck and began developing a precision operation to uncover the unknown.
"We are an NCO-centric organization, and it's that professionalism that bonds our detachment," said Sgt. Anthony Johnson, an Army Reserve CID agent and criminal science investigator with Fort Lauderdale, Fla., police department. "Military leadership depends on our training and expertise to provide an accurate investigation. As CID agents, we are able to find closure for families looking for answers or identify individuals who commit crimes."
As a two-Soldier team began to don white protective suits, others began photographing the area -- collecting as much visual evidence before the remaining special agents before Soldiers began working at the site.
With small garden-like shovels and paint brushes in hand, they slowly began a methodical process of removing soil and other natural debris. Within hours, they have unearthed several inches of dirt before one CID agent uncovered a fraction of an inch of what seemed like bone material.
During the week, Johnson works forensic investigations and assists detectives in catching the bad guys. He uses that valuable experience and knowledge to provide the detachment with the most realistic training for his peers and leadership.
"Our detachment has an extraordinary amount of police investigative experience, and to be able to bring that to battle assembly gives us the edge over our active duty counterparts," said Few. "We are able to use Soldiers like Johnson to create realistic training for our agents during battle assembly to better prepare our unit for a mobilization."
Unlike most amateur archeologists armed with a metal detector on the beach whom quickly pushes the sand away to unveil an old metal bottle top, these agents used patience to their advantage.
They didn't focus on the small object protruding from the dirt but continued to slowly move dirt away from the entire site -- inch by inch until significant items of interest appeared throughout the area.
As each item appeared, a crime scene photographer carefully photographed each item and took notes related to that particular item.
Working with the numerous tools associated with forensic investigation was Sgt. Milton Colmenares, a Department of Defense police officer from Kissimmee, Fla.
"They really try to bring a lot of good training to the battle assembly weekend," said Colmenares, a combat veteran. "In our detachment, it's about hands-on training and learning from each other. Each of us has something unique to add to the mix, and it's that mix that makes us stand out against our peers."
Within another couple hours and as the daylight quickly disappeared behind the nearby tree line, the team of special agents unearthed dozens of bone fragments and a human skull.
As Johnson, Colmenares and other special agents worked the crime scene, the Army's core values seemed visually apparent as each member supported the other for the good of the collective mission.
"The Army Reserve has taught me that working together as part of a team is an important element of success," said Colmenares. "In our field, individuality is not an option but rather a hindrance. CID agents must set aside their own personal goals to help each other assist in the investigation."
As the dirt collected at a nearby pile, a team of two agents used sifters to go through the soil again " all looking for pieces of a puzzle that, when used together, will hopefully tell a story to agents on site about possible criminal activity.
Dog tags and small knife and bullet casings were some of the items recovered at the scene. Those items were important components in identifying who is responsible for the potential crime or the remains of the victim.
Team members began the slow process of looking for evidence not seen by the untrained eye. As they slowly dusted for fingerprints or other trace markings, another two-Soldier team began the process of examining the bones and placing them on a tarp in an anatomical manner.
One agent examined the bones and determined the deceased victim was male and wrote detailed notes in his small green book.
"We must be meticulous in our investigations," said Sgt. Jason Ward, a Lee County Florida deputy from Cape Coral Florida. "Making assumptions could lead us down a path that could be disastrous for an investigation. Taking our time and working diligently through a forensic investigation is a key component to finding out the truth."
As the Reserve team finished the collection of evidence at the potential crime scene, the bags of evidence were carefully marked and tagged for shipment back to their lab.
As crime-scene tape was rolled back up and the hole refilled, the agents knew their job has just begun. They had hours, days or weeks of analyzing evidence to unveil the truth of what happened here.
Although the day's events were only training for the unit's scheduled battle assembly, the detachment trained as they would if it were a real case. From examining real-life crime scene photos to enhancing their night-time photography skills, Few said keeping his Soldiers' skills sharp is paramount to the success of his detachment.
"I want my Soldiers to walk away from the training more confidence in themselves and their job," Few said. "I must have tactically and technically proficient agents ready to deploy to support operations around the globe."