FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- She had a pistol, and she was stuck between wanting to finish the dirty dishes in the sink and taking her own life. From the top of her lungs, she exploded into the phone, ripping and yanking at her short, red hair, while U.S. Army Special Agents worked diligently to calm the frantic mother on the other end of the line.
What seemed nothing short of real life, was actually a training exercise that took place on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, as part of Capital Shield.
Capital Shield is a training exercise designed for CID Special Agents, with a focus on crisis and hostage negotiation, crime scene processing and intelligence management. The training, which ran 5 through 9 September, included approximately 45 Soldiers, officers and special agents from the U.S. Army Reserve and the active component. As the world changes, so does the Army’s mission. When it comes to deployments, active-duty CID units continue to rely heavily on special agents from America’s Army Reserve.
“Being able to inter-mingle [both components] fosters good relationships and brings depths of knowledge to the teams,” said Capt. Scott Tunis, an operations officer with the Washington CID Battalion.
Special Agent Jennifer Nimms, an active duty agent with the 12th Military Police Battalion (CID) located at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, was chosen to be a leader for one of the four teams participating in Capital Shield. She shared many of the Army’s standards of doing things, such as processing evidence at a crime scene. Because she works in an Army environment every day, these processes come second nature to her. But she didn’t leave the training with nothing in return.
Forensic science technicians and well-seasoned warrant officers in the CID field were invited as instructors for evidence processing training. Agents learned various ways to recreate and deconstruct a crime scene to understand exactly what happened. They learned how to analyze blood spatter, use chemicals and lights to show blood that has been cleaned up, how to recover latent prints, and what equipment to use, such as special goggles, to see even the smallest strands of hair invisible to the naked eye.
“I can take my thumb and put it on your arm,” said Nimms, “and then, grab a piece of paper, stick it on your arm where my thumb was, and then use powder to bring out the patterns of my print.”
Nathan Booth, a criminal investigator who specializes in blood spatter, explained to a class that there are ways to tell exactly where blood fell from and whether it was from an impact wound and if the person was moving or not when it happened.
“Sir, I’d like to see what the blood would look like if someone was walking from that way,” said a student who was motioning to the front door of the room.
Booth squeezed swine blood from a syringe and into another agent’s hand. The agent began to walk from the front door, to the back of the training room. The red drops resembled a grease-spattered stove after frying Saturday-morning bacon. To the agents, each drop fell with purpose, linking it to the exact angle from which it came. Their knowledge makes it very difficult for a criminal to cover up the truth.
“I love going up against somebody who thinks they’re smarter than we are and thinks that they can get away with something that we can prove through forensics,” said Special Agent Donald Rackley, of the 33rd Military Police Battalion (CID), which is an Army Reserve unit in Fort Gillem, Georgia.
Once the agents gathered their evidence, they process it. For the active component, this was basic knowledge, for the agents from the Reserve, this is a skill they would need to reinforce.
“One Reserve agent said we’re very thorough with our evidence,” said Nimms. “[However,] working with our Reserve partners has been a wealth of knowledge, because they are all civilian cops who respond to scenarios like this (hostage and crisis) everyday. They were able to share their expertise and give advice that we were able to put in our tool kit.”
This was the second year the two components trained together during Capital Shield. To raise the stakes of the exercise, the trainers incorporated other elements and agencies into the mix. Agents trained with a special reaction team, local military police and with FBI agents from the Washington, D.C., office.
Lt. Col. Sam Mum, the provost marshal for the 200th Military Police Command, the headquarters for all of the U.S. Army Reserve MPs, including CID, is also an FBI agent in Washington, D.C. Rackley and Special Agent Stephen Hudson, the assistant operations officer for the Washington CID Battalion, reached out to Mum to coordinate the involvement of the FBI. It is very common for CI.D to work with multiple law enforcement agencies, especially for large investigations. This made Capital Shield more complex and realistic.
“Take the Fort Hood shooting. It [happened on] a federal installation, so the FBI would be involved,” said Rackley. “It’s important for the agents to understand how we are going to be involved in collateral investigations, and how we can work in these relationships to come to a better resolution, and leverage their experience and expertise to better solve crimes.”
But Rackley and Hudson aren’t going to stop with different national agencies. Next year, they plan on inviting law enforcement from Canada, Germany, France and Australia to lead exercises, and take part in the training.
After three, long hours of dialogue between the Special Agents and the woman who was claiming to take her life in the crisis negotiation scenario, who also shed real tears, she put the gun down and walked outside, ready to receive help.
“I could tell from the reaction of the negotiators that they treated this as a real incident,” said Hudson. “It lets these Agents analyze their own feeling and their own emotions and it lets them [ponder], ‘Maybe I’m not the one that’s supposed to be talking to somebody like this.’”
It’s practice like this, in a peace-time environment, that prepares our Soldiers to fight and win America’s wars.
“Maj. Gen. Garcia’s (the commanding general for the 200th MP Command) top mission is having a ready force,” said Mum. “When we deploy, we work hand-in-hand with active duty, and one of the missions is negotiation on military bases. Therefore, having this experience is only going to better-prepare our agents, and that’s what it means to be a ready force.”
For the U.S. Army to be ready to engage any enemy at any time, it means to be more than just trained in certain skills and physically healthy. America’s Army Reserve must have agility and be mentally tough, also. Special agents like these stick to their motto and Do What Has to be Done to make sure the Army ranks are filled with the best Soldiers their country has to offer.