After The Door Is Kicked In
(August 17, 2010)
Lighting the scene with a flashlight, Spc. Jami Dater, a military police officer with Headquarters, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, as Sgt. Efren Garcia, a scout team leader with D Troop, 1st Squadron, 73rd Calvary Regiment takes a photograph of fingerprints they discovered during the Forensic Material Collection and Exploitation Course held at Fort Bragg by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Aug. 12, 2010. The course gives Soldiers the skills to collect forensic information to take insurgents off the battlefield.
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - August 16, 2010 --
It was a bloody mess.
Blood spattered the floor, walls, and a small wooden table in what could only be
called a torture chamber, nestled in the basement of a squat concrete building.
A drill, knives, and various pieces of gardening equipment littered the table,
all coated in a thick layer of congealing blood. It was a scene out of a
nightmare and the faces of the Paratroopers, who first encountered the horror,
were masks of surprise and revulsion. This was not the bomb-makers lab they
A fellow soldier had been captured by Taliban forces and he had supposedly been
held in this same building. The Paratroopers who came upon the scene had less
than 10 minutes to collect any evidence of the kidnappers or the missing soldier
before security forces could no longer hold the perimeter. With that thought in
mind, each member of the five-man team quickly and efficiently went to work
photographing, examining, and documenting the scene.
With a shout the team stopped their mad scramble through the building. One
team-member had found something that would answer their immediate questions. In
a corner of a room, sitting above the blood-spattered chamber, stood a steel
chair, cold and empty, with strands of tape wrapped tight around the back and
legs. Obviously someone had been restrained here and then hastily cut away. But
the clue the team had found was a tiny sliver of paper, folded, and placed into
the joint where the legs of the chair met the back.
In the sudden silence the team unrolled the paper. This was what they had been
looking for, the information they so desperately needed. Scribbled hastily, in
fine print were the initials of the missing soldier, the last four of his social
security number, today's date, and “+3CF,” meaning three more coalition forces
held with the missing soldier.
With a shout, of “ENDEX,” everything came to a screeching halt. This portion of
the Forensic Material Collection and Exploitation Course was over. The team
assembled outside, stomping or wiping the blood, which was actually colored corn
syrup off their gloves and boots. They huddled with an instructor with the U.S.
Army Military Police School to review their actions in the mock torture chamber
and the building it resided in. The carnage scene encountered in the basement
was only a distraction, said the instructor; the real evidence was the slip of
paper on the single chair in an empty room. |
This was only one scenario in a string of events Paratroopers from the 2nd
Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, encountered during the week-long
exercise held at Fort Bragg. The purpose of the training as described by
Frederick King, an instructor and senior analyst with Six3 Systems and the
USMPS, “is to take the insurgents off the battlefield.”
The training facilitates this by giving soldiers the skills to identify,
collect, preserve, and process forensic material. “They [soldiers] know how to
fight,” said King, “We want them to see how to connect a bomb maker to a scene.”
For the first day and a half of training, the Paratroopers were given classroom
and hands-on instruction on the sequence of site exploitation, which included
fingerprinting techniques, lifting latent fingerprints, photography, and the
collection and documentation of evidence. Spc. Joseph Tapia, a military police
officer with headquarters company, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion,
described those first classes as, “We went over simple things at first, like how
to light up a fingerprint on any surface in the dark with only a flashlight.”
King said that they wanted the soldier to be able to take a latent fingerprint
in the dark, with a flashlight, in less than 30 seconds.
Following the classroom portion, the Paratroopers were given what the
instructors call a shock and awe scene. “We lay it on as heavy as we can,” King
said. And by heavy, he means a murder scene inside an improvised explosive
King went on to describe how the scene can overwhelm the soldiers and they often
leave the scene with little to no evidence. But that's only the beginning of the
training. From there, the Paratroopers start with simple scenarios and then
spend the next three days taking on increasingly complicated scenes.
The overarching mission of the exercise is the search for a “Sgt. Jack Daniels,”
who went missing after a helicopter crash. The soldiers must collect evidence
throughout the exercise that will lead to the capture of insurgents and the
eventual rescue of their missing comrade.
Though taught by the USMPS, the training is designed for soldiers from a variety
of job specialties. Each of the teams consisted of military policemen, infantry,
scouts, and soldiers from numerous other jobs. “It's not just MP oriented,” said
Tapia, “When we bring other military occupational specialties together, it
completes the puzzle.”
As the scenarios become more complicated and the time limit becomes increasingly
constrained, the soldiers become more adept at the sequence of site
exploitation. The sequence is a five-step process that includes security,
photography, material collection, lifting fingerprints, and documentation of the
scene. “[Soldiers] have to learn to prioritize rooms and evidence with a limited
amount of time,” said Cpt. Frank Kraut, military police platoon leader, with
headquarters company, 2BSTB.
In some of the more advanced scenarios, the soldiers are given multi-room
buildings that might be an electronic shop. Trying to discern what components in
an electronic shop were just normal items and what were IED components can be a
difficult task. “Soldiers have to understand how to prioritize what's important,
like a cell phone or a cell phone that's wired to a battery and explosive,” King
The skills the Paratroopers learn during the training allow them to process an
entire site regardless of the outside support from other federal or military
investigative agencies that might be available.
Though only a small group of Paratroopers from the 2BCT was involved in the
week-long training event, they now have the capability to take that training
back to their individual units and pass it on. “It's the simple techniques they
can pass on to other soldiers,” said King.
Tapia summed up knowledge he and his fellow Troopers had gained from the course
saying: “This is what helps us apprehend insurgents and get them off the road
and not making bombs. It's what happens after the door is kicked in and the room
Article and photo by Army SSgt. John Laughter
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs
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