QUANTICO, Va. (Dec. 19, 2011) -- Half way around the world and peppered across the battle spaces of Afghanistan, Joint Expeditionary Forensic Facilities, known as JEFF Labs, carry out their critical mission of providing tactical science technology at the tip of the spear in the Army's continuing war on terror.
JEFF labs, and the forensic scientists who man them, provide ground forces and commanders with direct mission support. These facilities, including the Combined Explosive Exploitation Cell or CEXC Labs, continue to work closely with their fellow professionals in the U.S. Special Operations Command, federal law enforcement and explosive ordnance disposal, known as EOD, communities to combat the insurgency.
"The JEFF labs significantly impact our troops in harm's way. Simply put, they remove bad guys from the battlefield," said Kevin Kahley, the Expeditionary Forensics Division Plans and Operations officer for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Laboratory or USACIL. "Once ground commanders realize what it is that we do, what the capabilities of the labs are and the types of services our examiners can provide, they quickly become converts."
"These labs help Soldiers come home alive," he said.
At first glance, the labs often resemble sugar-coated shipping containers, usually encased by cement blast walls and razor wire. However, it's the surprise inside that has militants and terrorists alike scrambling for the hills.
Kahley explained that within the belly of these beasts lie the latest and greatest tools in the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command's forensic science arsenal, manned by a highly trained, professional force of scientists of various disciplines whose sole purpose is to protect allied forces and put the bad guys behind bars.
Their immensely crucial missions include determining the source of insurgent arms, tracking explosives used in improvised explosive devices and vehicle-born improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs and VIEDs, intelligence analysis and targeting for combat operations and direct action missions, counter-sniper mission support, identifying human remains, latent prints, DNA, Serology and firearms/tool mark analysis.
The success of the labs mission allows the rapid exploitation of evidence enabling U.S. and coalition forces to eliminate threats and capture, prosecute or neutralize the enemy.
"There is no uniformed enemy here so that often complicates this mission for our troops," Kahley said. "That fact doesn't affect us because regardless of whatever they may say, do or try, they've got nowhere hide."
"Prints don't lie. DNA doesn't lie," he said.
One example of the labs in action was the capture of a prominent bomb maker.
Kahley said, during a sensitive site exploitation following an improvised explosive device, or IED, attack on U.S. Forces outside of Kandahar, a law enforcement professional discovered a wire and tracked it back to the command detonation point.
After securing the scene and processing it for evidence to be turned over to the JEFF labs, a booby trapped spool of wire was discovered.
"Back at the lab, we were able to recover a latent print that was a match for a known bomb maker who was recently released from prison," he said. "It seems that he was back to his old ways."
This information was quickly relayed to the National Ground Intelligence Center, known as the NGIC, and within a few days the bomber was picked up by a Special Operations Forces patrol.
"Crime scene preservation and collection greatly improves bringing something of value to the fight," he said. "What's important is being able to prosecute the real criminals will definitely lead to a more secure environment."
Biometrics on the battlefield is another aspect of forensics that is being exploited to help take the fight to the enemy, but most importantly save lives.
"When a subject is enrolled into the Biometrics Automated Toolset System, or BATS, that information is uploaded into the main data base, not just the local net," Kahley said. "Now everyone has visibility of that particular subject, so if they move from Kandahar to Bagram, our folks up north will know."
This is very important, he said, given the transient nature of the insurgency.
"So if our troops find a weapons cache during a raid, or a pressure plate from an IED and we're able to preserve the evidence we can ID who was at the site," he said. "If we lift a print and it matches a subject in the data base, now have a known bad guy we can go after."
That information is also uploaded into the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory data base and is accessible by authorized personnel worldwide.
Another force multiplier is the JEFF labs ability to assist, train and mentor both U.S. and Local/National forces in forensic sciences.
"One thing we've done is to help create training for the NGIC for Soldiers coming into theater," said Tommy Monday, a latent print examiner with USACIL. "Once they find out what we're capable of, the quality of the evidence being collected goes through the roof."
"This in turn, greatly increases our ability to develop a quality product that they can then act on," said Monday.
Within the various sections of the JEEF labs, all work hand-in-hand to ensure that those customers outside the lab are provided the absolute best products and support.
Regarding local/national forces, great strides are being taken to educate and train both the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army personnel not only on the importance of evidence but its uses in a tactical environment as well as within the courts.
One recent case was the translation of 1,500 pages of criminal investigative reports, documents and evidence into Dari and Pashtu for use in a terrorism case being prosecuted in the Afghan court system.
"This guy denied having ever seen the documents, but his finger prints were on every piece of paper recovered from the crime scene," Monday said. "Still, the guy swore up and down he had never seen any of it."
Tommy explained that the challenge was educating the local magistrate on what a finger print was, how it is unique to an individual and what it can prove or disprove in a court of law.
"Now with the biometric and forensic science support being provided to the Afghan government they are starting to really understand how we can help," he said.
Just this year, the first class of Afghan Crime Scene Investigators graduated from the CID course run by the JEFF labs in Bagram and construction is underway for an Afghan criminal investigation laboratory. CID is also assisting in the construction of a forensic science training center that once complete will facilitate the education of future Afghan crime scene processors.
Another strength of the JEFF lab program is the support system they have back home.
On the outskirts of Atlanta, Ga., sparse double-wide trailers populating a humble patch of asphalt, just across the street from UASCIL, Kahley and his fellow forensic science colleagues man the Reach Back Operations Center, or RBOC, supporting the various JEFF labs forward deployed.
As the Department of Defense's premiere criminal investigative laboratory, and one of only two Federal forensic science laboratories, USACIL continues to provide oversight, policy, training and guidance for the labs and the men and women who field them.
"JEFF labs do not process evidence for Title 10, or conventional military criminal investigations," said Andy McNab, a latent print examiner from USACIL. "Evidence from those types of investigations by CID, NCIS and OSI goes to USACIL to be processed."
"The JEFF labs and CEXC just handle the stuff in theater, or what we call Gray side," he added.
McNab said sometimes, the labs forward get inundated with evidence and need assistance or perhaps require a specialized exam that cannot be conducted down range.
"That evidence would get worked here at USACIL," he said. "What's important is that no matter what, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the guys down range know we're here to help."
For more information on Army CID, visit www.cid.army.mil