Military forensic investigators process crime scenes great and small, on the battlefield and off. Like their civilian counterparts, military forensic investigators sift through evidence in cases of murder or suspicious death. Military investigators, however, also may study mass graves in war zones. Investigators also identify the remains of personnel killed in the line of duty, often with little physical evidence to go on.
The U.S. Army first established joint expeditionary forensics facilities, or JEFFs, in 2005 in Iraq to process fingerprints, firearms and DNA in combat areas. JEFFs later were established in Afghanistan, and on-call JEFFs are now ready to deploy anywhere any time. Field forensic investigators often collect information in the middle of a battlefield, exposed to enemy fire. They also must work where explosives or chemical bombs could detonate at any time, or where numerous bodies fill mass graves in or near enemy territory.
The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory in Forest Park, Georgia, provides forensic laboratory services to Department of Defense and federal law enforcement agencies. USACIL is where special investigators and forensic specialists from the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps train. It is also where evidence collected abroad, including battlefields, goes for laboratory processing. Forensic examiners and analysts often testify in federal, military and state courts, and multinational courts or tribunals.
Special agents in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are master-level, highly trained forensic investigators who often collaborate with and advise other investigators on complex cases. The NCIS trains its agents in crime scene reconstruction, blood spatter analysis, firearms trajectory analysis and forensic autopsies. They also advise the case agent on evidence that needs to be analyzed by a criminal laboratory and how to process evidence in the lab.
Since 2004, all U.S. battlefield deaths are autopsied and it is up to forensic investigators to determine the identity of the deceased, the cause of death and any scraps or chemicals from weapons that are present in the remains. Military forensic examiners charged with identifying the remains of fallen service members must often speak with grieving family members directly, meaning they must understand how to deal with people receiving the worst news of their lives.