BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --
Although he may not be disarming the improvised explosive devices outside the wire, Tech. Sgt. Timothy Ostberg, 955th Air Expeditionary Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, plays a unique role in disarming the enemy.
As one of only two military members among Bagram Airfield’s Afghanistan Captured Material Exploitation laboratory, the EOD technicians make sure every IED is safe before the rest of the ACME team touches it.
“We get to see every single IED from all over Afghanistan,” Ostberg said. “It’s an important job making sure the components are safe. I’ve learned a lot about tactical forensics collection and what to look for as a lead technician.”
ACME is the only forensic operating lab in theater providing critical analysis to identify force protection threats and enable host nation criminal prosecutions.
The technicians and scientists within the lab specialize in capturing DNA, fingerprints and weapons technical inspection evidence to help defeat IED networks.
Overseeing all of the disciplines is the laboratory manager, Kimberly Perusse who deployed as the manager back in 2015. Perusse, a Defense Forensic Science Center employee, makes sure the lab runs smoothly, the evidence gets to each specific discipline and her crew is accounted for.
Within the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division Command, the DFSC is the premier and only full-service forensic laboratory in the Department of Defense.
Perusse said her staff take their jobs and deployments seriously.
“In Afghanistan, we are in the thick of it and you can actually see the differences you make,” Perusse said. “When our work identifies the people—identifies the network—then we know something happens outside the wire and we don’t get indirect-fire for a while or the IED threat seems to decrease, that’s incredibly rewarding for our team.”
Among Perusse’s staff is a DNA analyst, a latent print examiner and a chemist; each of their jobs just as important as the next.
This is DNA analyst Erin Cook’s fifth deployment with DFSC. Explaining the multi-step DNA process, Cook noted only one drop of DNA is needed to catch the enemy.
“Just a small amount from touch DNA, saliva or bodily fluids can be used for the extraction process to find something helpful,” Cook said. “When we get the evidence, we separate the DNA from the cell, make billions of copies and using the genetic analyzer, we can create a DNA profile.”
A DNA profile is generated by separating the fragments of DNA by size and color tags which are then photographed and entered within an algorithm.
“I love my job,” Cook said. “It’s gratifying supporting the service members outside the wire by answering the questions needed to remove threats from the battlespace.”
Dealing with chance impression is a vital and critical part of Sarah Stowers’ everyday work. The DFSC latent print examiner has been in the forensics field for six years, but this is her first rotation in theater.
Chance impressions are fragile prints typically found on nonporous surfaces like plastics and metals, and can be easily wiped off during collection and handling. The fragile print residue sits on the surface and is usually found through a process of drying superglue and looking under a strong light source.
“Having an accredited scientist in theater can increase the chance of identifying the enemy,” Stowers said. “We can do fingerprint exams in-house for detainees and are certified to do comparisons which can be used in court.”
Although Missy Meredith, DFSC firearm and tool-mark examiner, specializes in examining firearms, she’s usually just left with bullets and cartridge cases.
Firearms and tool-marks have unique markings, just like fingerprints, said Meredith, who is on her fifth deployment. The manufacturing process leaves individual marks on parts which can be used to identify the make, model, caliber, country of origin and serial number of a specific firearm.
“I can identify the people out there by matching the bullet to the gun to the person,” Meredith said. “It’s nice to find out you linked two cases just by bullets or tool-marks, the little things count in the fight too.”
Meredith sometimes has to perform test fires for microscopic comparison. Using an optical bridge, two-connected microscopes, Meredith can match bullets and link cases together.
When Inge Corbin, DFSC chemist, receives evidence it’s usually post-blast with only the remains submitted.
Along with determining organic, inorganic or homemade explosives, Corbin can perform drug analysis through fragments and extractions.
Corbin uses her extensive knowledge and unique equipment to look for explosive trends or new developments to provide information to those working task force to plan movements safely.
“It’s important work, and we don’t always know where our information goes or who it can help,” Corbin said. “When you find out later you had a part in taking down the enemy, that’s a good feeling.”
As a joint task force, each member of the ACME team—civilian and military—works tirelessly to apply technical, forensic and biometric intelligence to the needs of the battlefield.