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NEWS | Aug. 17, 2011

Forensics course sharpens wartime skills

By Capt. Chris Hoyler 1st Combat Camera Squadron

Thirty-five Airmen from Joint Base Charleston's 1st Combat Camera Squadron completed a four-day forensic training course last week, providing them with skills and techniques needed to conduct forensic multimedia collection on the battlefield.

The course, which included laboratory sessions and crime scene analysis scenarios, gave Airmen the opportunity to refine their forensic documentation skills, including forensic awareness, biometrics, latent print collection, DNA collection and preservation and tactical questioning.

"The Battlefield Forensics course provides today's war fighter needed skill sets to document a site, collect material of intelligence value and collect known and unknown biometrics on that site," said Bryant Cox, the team lead for Six3 Systems' Battlefield Forensic Training Team.

Six3 Systems specializes in biometrics and identity intelligence. The 1st Combat Camera Squadron is among several Department of Defense units that have worked with the company to instruct service members on battlefield forensics. Cox's team includes prior military combat photographers and an intelligence analyst. Nearly half of the team has worked as part of a forward-deployed laboratory in Iraq of Afghanistan, including the Combined Explosive Exploitation Cell and the Joint Expeditionary Forensic Facility, two collection points for material collected by war fighters conducting battlefield forensics.

As specialists in collecting visual imagery, Airmen assigned to one of the Air Force's four combat camera squadrons accompany units worldwide to document military operations. Many combat camera Airmen travel in teams consisting of a photographer and broadcaster, and these teams are expected to have the ability to accurately document crime scenes and conduct battle-damage assessments.

"This gives the combat photographer an added skill set on the battlefield," Cox said. "The assumption on the battlefield is that because you are a photographer you know how to take photographs of everything or in every situation.

"If a unit takes a combat photographer off their forward operating base and out to a forensics site, the photographer will need more than their basic photography skills. With this course we give them the ability to know what to photograph and when. In addition they have all the other skill sets to aid their fellow war fighters in collecting material and biometrics and ultimately identifying the enemy."

Identifying enemy combatants was the primary goal of the second half of the course which saw the Airmen divided in to eight teams and given the challenge of exploiting realistic forensic sites built by the training team in unoccupied base housing. The Airmen were evaluated as a team and as individuals to ensure they fully grasped the correct sequencing and site exploitation tactics taught during the previous days' classroom and laboratory sessions.

"This has been a very informative course," said Tech. Sgt. Shelly Branch, 1st CTCS combat videographer. "On my last deployment, I was expected to serve as a photographer in addition to my primary job as a broadcaster - no matter how comfortable I was with the still camera, I had to ensure the mission was done right. It's great that this course gives our Airmen, both photographers and broadcasters, a background in operational forensics."

Cox said that while this course provides Airmen a strong background in effectively exploiting a forensic site, those participating must continue to develop their skills in preparation for use on the battlefield.

"It boils down to practice," Cox said. "That could be anything from setting up mock scenarios to process, to referencing the take-home material we provide such as books and PowerPoint presentations. The students all receive a combat kit and 90-days worth of resupply so they can maintain their skills and remain ready to apply them at anytime."