Soldiers train to use forensic science to catch insurgents

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M.-- Soldiers with the 2nd Engineer…

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M.– Soldiers with the 2nd Engineer Battalion will use modern investigative techniques to locate and capture insurgents when they deploy next year.

Like something out of the popular crime scene investigation television programs, members of the 2nd Engineer Battalion are analyzing evidence from enemy activities to determine their locations, motives and activities.

Using the battalion’s time at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., intelligence officers like 2nd Lt. Mathew Peterson had a chance to practice their skills at identifying and evaluating enemy activities by analyzing evidence found on the battlefield.

“What I’m looking for are things that can put me in the enemies shoes, so that I can figure out that they’re eating this kind of food, or using this kind of stuff that comes from a store in (one specific town) rather than (another). That way we can know what routes they’re using, what kinds of cars to look for, which people, and what kind of IEDs they make,” Peterson said as he examined a discarded battery he found near a road with IED activity.

Analyzing evidence like this can go a long way towards helping keep routes clear, as well as help U.S. and Allied forces as a whole identify who the enemy is and how to best combat them. “If (our Soldiers) bring in something like wires, that are a specialty to shops in (a certain town), then I can answer the question – ‘Where are the enemy coming from?’ Answering two or three questions like that helps Peterson identify the enemy.

Part of what makes Peterson’s investigations so effective is coordination with other units. This allows him to gather intelligence and forensic data about the larger operating environment. “We have all kinds of different systems that help us integrate information not just from our battalion, but from other battalions in the area,” Peterson said.

One of Peterson’s goals is to expand the Soldiers’ definition of what is considered valuable evidence. Currently Soldiers tend to focus on the actual explosives found in the IEDs, Peterson wants them to learn to include other materials that could be useful to insurgents. “I’m trying to expand the mindset to realize that even something as small as a nine volt battery could have been in a detonator and for all we know there’s a fingerprint on there that I can trace back to somebody,” Peterson said.

Once he has access to evidence Peterson and his team can start analyzing it or leveraging other resources outside of his unit to help determine its value as a source of information. “One of my guys is battlefield forensics trained and he knows how to handle these things. He makes sure they get to the teams that can do the right laboratory analysis,” Peterson said.

Taking part in the deployment readiness exercise at NTC has given Peterson a chance to make use of the wide range of materials that might not be available when conducting training exercises on White Sands Missile Range. “At White Sands I can do things in theory, but I don’t actually have someone calling (me) up with real enemy network set up with connected personalities and things where they’re actually setting up IEDs,” Peterson said.

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