By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – It looked like an episode from "CSI" or "Law and Order" on Forward Operating Base Kalsu as Soldiers bagged items for evidence, marked rooms and drew sketches of a crime scene.
Squads of Soldiers from Company B, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, took turns searching a house and vehicle during a Sensitive Site Exploitation training, Oct. 8, 2008.
"This is extremely valuable for these Soldiers. It starts them thinking like the crooks they chase," said David Bowman, of Boise, Idaho, a law enforcement expert who oversaw the training. "[They're] thinking like a terrorist and where would [they] hide something [if they were one]. And that's basically the value of this as a Soldier – how to look and what to look for."
The scenario itself was pretty involved at the house training site on base. Each squad started off as if on a foot patrol through a town to talk to residents about a missing Soldier. By talking with one of the residents, Soldiers would build a rapport and pick up clues that led them to a vehicle infested with munitions, weapons and explosives. A map in the vehicle then pointed them to a house, and later to a site where a weapons cache laid buried nearby. Each piece led to more discoveries.
"The program was started about a year-and-a-half ago and it's picking up speed and becoming more popular," Bowman said.
To make things even more interesting, a simulated tripwire was buried near one of the houses to keep the Soldiers on guard throughout the scenario.
"It's extremely easy to get tunnel vision out there," said Cpl. Robert Fox, of Soddy Daisy, Tenn. "Pretty much you have to keep your eyes open and look around. Make sure that everybody else is doing the right thing, and while you're looking around that [you're] checking corners, walls, doors, ceilings, everything else."
The importance of sensitive site exploitation is to gather evidence that can later be analyzed by experts in the field. The process is similar to a crime scene investigation and this training familiarizes Soldiers on how to react to a scene that can provide clues.
"All I can say is that it's a valuable asset to the military to start this type of training throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. That's the only way we'll be able to track these [criminals] down and to stop them and their activities," Bowman said.
The key was to be thorough and systematic. While searching the vehicle, Soldiers found weapons and explosives in the most unlikely places. A pistol lodged in the corner of the front bumper. A rifle hidden in the middle of the engine block. Explosives crammed in the air filter compartment.
Soldiers logged not only what they found, but also drew a reference of where each item lay hidden.
"When we were in the classroom [we learned] the importance of actually bagging and tagging the evidence, and [how] that actually makes a difference in the prosecution of the detainees," Fox said.
The same happened in the house, but the key this time was to have as few people as possible in the rooms to avoid contaminating the scene.
"Keep it simple," said Paul Zepeda, of San Antonio, a law enforcement professional embedded with 1st Battalion, 76th Field Artillery Regiment. "Keep it to a minimum. Don't have a bunch of people all over the place and keep it in order, in sequence, because after that, everything else starts getting a little out of place."
In the house, a Soldier took pictures of each piece of evidence, from a bayonet stuck in the wall to blood splatters sprayed in different directions. The rooms were numbered, and Soldiers separated their findings according to which room contained which items. Even though they're collecting inanimate objects, these items have a lot to say.
"As a trained investigator I could recreate this scene of everything that took place as long as everything is gathered in a systematic [manner]. We could pretty much tell you how it happened, when it happened by the blood splatter," Zepeda said.
Though this training has been going on for less than two years, Soldiers have already shown signs of improvement in gathering evidence to catch criminals in Iraq.
"They're starting to develop better cases now in the field ...We're starting to see them thinking like an investigator and treating this site exploitation area like a crime scene," Bowman said.
This work, Exploitation training entices Soldiers to think like crooks, by MSG Michel Sauret, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.