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Soldiers get bomb scene training at Fort Huachuca

A soldier gathers visual evidence as part of training in the Joint Weapons Intelligence Course at Fort Huachuca last month.

A soldier gathers visual evidence as part of training in the Joint Weapons Intelligence Course at Fort Huachuca last month.

SIERRA VISTA – Some soldiers, sailors and airmen at Fort Huachuca have been learning to go through a crime scene, but not a neat TV scene with actors, klieg lights, mike booms and cameras rolling.

No, 99 soldiers attending the 52-day Joint Weapons Intelligence Course at the Intelligence Center are faced with reality, and don’t take that to mean a hyped TV reality show such as “Survivor.”

Their jobs may have some elements of a “CSI” show, but what they do takes much longer than an hourlong or two-part forensic-based TV drama.

And unlike a TV show, the trainees, such as Chief Petty Officer Sam and Petty Officer 1st Class Mike – whose last names were withheld because of security requirements by fort officials – don’t have multiple takes to get it right.

Army Maj. Christopher Britt, the course manager, said the instruction brings in people from different fields, such as security, intelligence and explosive ordnance disposal. The training also brings them together to create a special forensics-gathering team, where they are taught aspects of many jobs with the goal of identifying an individual or a “cell of three or four people” who make and use bombs to kill people in Iraq.

Prior to a biometrics and forensics summit held on the post earlier this year, Maj. Gen. John Custer, the commander of the Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca, talked about the importance of the Joint Weapons Intelligence Course. He noted at the time that its movement from the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to Fort Huachuca was logical because intelligence is the critical component in the instruction.

While biometrics and forensics are “two related and similar disciplines, their differences are critical in fighting the war against terrorism,” Custer said.

The biometrics aspect looks for human parameters to identify a culprit and forensics, and the “CSI” connection looks for how a specific human puts a bomb together or how it is used, Custer said.

The course incorporates biometrics, forensics and other important, but left unsaid, disciplines that will make the graduates of the instruction intelligence experts in one of many arenas needed to be successful in combating terrorism, the general said.

As part of Tuesday’s training, the students arrived on scene to investigate a couple of “bombings.” One of the staged bombings was a car in which a pound and a quarter of an unidentified explosive blew doors off the vehicle and sent window glass shards flying 150 feet away from a Subaru. A damaged Toyota, its roof resting nearly 200 feet from what was the main body of the vehicle, was across the way in the training area and not used during the training.

And another explosive, which was 2 ounces of material in a letter bomb, was set off inside a cinderblock building. The building was a stand-in for an Iraqi police station.

When it came to the Subaru, the students of three teams that would investigate the blast site were told that an Iraqi was heading for work at a United Nations compound in Baghdad when the car exploded. The only “casualty” was the driver, who also owned the car.

Teams led by Chief Petty Officer Sam had to gather evidence. Starting with a “F.O.D.-like walk,” something usually done to ensure there is no debris around aircraft that could be sucked up into engines, the teams began to go methodically to the car. F.O.D. stands for foreign object damage.

Mike said the course, which began soon after Labor Day, started with a lot of classroom work and now is developing into “full-blown (field) exercises.”

Sam said the key is for a team to develop a checklist and follow it.

Each time out to the field, in this case an area on the fort’s East Range, helps to sharpen skills, both sailors said.

But it wasn’t just a matter of seeking evidence, bagging it and marking the plastic envelopes and taking photos of the scene. The teams also had to go back and write a report.

That is when assumptions have to be separated from facts, Sam said. A report must clearly define what a team may consider an assumption and what is, in their minds, a fact. The clearer the report, the better those in the decision-making chain will be able to do their jobs, Sam said.

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