SAN DIEGO – It started as a flicker of orange. In an instant – faster than the crowd could register it – the spark turned into a flame and burst outward. The explosion shook through the crowd’s chests and across the ground beneath their feet. Dark plumes billowed out and up, reaching over the rocky mountains of Miramar, California.
“Did anyone notice the color of the smoke?” asked Special Agent Mike Hong, a bomb technician with the Los Angeles FBI Office.
The word “grey” surfaced from different members of the crowd. Just by the smoke’s color, agents can detect whether the bomb was chemical or electrical, commercial or improvised. Any of those details offers clues on the people who made the explosive and the resources available to them.
For more than a week, a group of U.S. Army Reserve and active duty special agents studied different types of explosives along with Marine Corps and Navy ordnance specialists, in an FBI-led class.
This post-blast analysis class was just one training event offered during a two-week training excise called Guardian Shield, hosted by the 393rd Military Police Battalion (CID), in Coronado, California, Aug. 19-31.
Guardian Shield is the premier training exercise for special agents in the U.S. Army Reserve. It provides necessary training for their career progression and basic investigative certifications without having to register for longer courses at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, the home of the U.S. Army Military Police School.
This year, Guardian Shield included the post-blast training class, along with logistics security, domestic violence intervention, criminal intelligence, hostage negotiation and active shooter training.
In its ninth year, Guardian Shield has grown to show the DoD investigative community that Army Reserve CID are leading the way in military law enforcement and investigation training.
“This has put us in the spotlight,” said Capt. Thomas Deluccia, the operations chief for the 393rd and a civilian LAPD bomb technician. “We used to have a very limited exposure with special agents from different branches, but now we have Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS), Marine Corps CID, active Army special agents, local law enforcement and Marine Corps and Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) technicians fall in under us for [this] training. It’s unheard of.”
While active duty agents from all branches of service investigate major felonies associated with the military, U.S. Army Reserve special agents come from civilian law enforcement careers. Many of them are FBI agents, detectives, members of drug suppression teams, bomb squads, special reaction teams and more. One student even works in a forensics lab.
Because their civilian jobs are fast-paced and diverse, these agents are constantly fostering relationships with other agencies and cross-training on a variety of other skills.
Through working with the FBI in his civilian job, Deluccia reached out to Hong and organized the post-blast training — a first for Guardian Shield.
There are instances when an explosion happens in the middle of unexpected, non-combat activities. Such was the case in November 2016, when a suicide bomber detonated in the middle of a morale-building “fun run” on Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. Army CID Agents were the first to respond. But, collecting evidence from an explosion differs from other crime scenes, said Hong.
“If we were to process this the way that we normally do it, we would be taking a lot of extra steps, and it would be very inefficient and very time consuming,” said Special Agent Timothy Okawa, an active duty Army member of the Fort Carson, Colorado, CID Office.
“Also, working with different components, like Navy and Marine Corps EOD, has helped us understand each other’s mission on a post-blast crime scene … which will help minimize interference and get the job done faster and more accurately,” he said.
As technology gets smarter to meet the complexities of national security, joint forces training like Guardian Shield fosters seamless cohesion between agencies. It helps by standardizing operations across the board.
Another course offered that augmented operation standardization was logistics security, which covered crimes related to property loss. A majority of property loss is discovered when Service members overseas receive containers that have been opened and stolen from. Military property – sometimes as significant as night vision goggles – has come up missing during transportation.
To combat these losses, agents trained on intelligence collecting to learn about the perpetrators and dissect criminal rings.
For even more detailed training, the agents travelled to the Port of San Diego, where they were given a tour of the 35-mile, water-front dock and briefed on how
cargo and assets were safeguarded.
Not only has Guardian Shield 2018 been unprecedented by having the largest variety of joint-forces attendees and cutting-edge training, but new logistics standards have been set for years to come.
Historically, planning for Guardian Shied is rotated between three CID battalions within the 200th Military Police Command. In the past, this annual event was hosted at Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers in either South Carolina or Georgia, which uses a significant amount of financial resources to occupy the training space, reserve lodging and pay per diem for meals.
For the first time, the event was held on the West Coast on a DoD military installation, which cut down costs significantly.
1st Lt. David Rose, an operations officer for the 393rd MP Bn., worked on the training plans for Guardian Shield for more than a year.
“Money-wise, it made more sense for us to operate here,” said Rose. “It took a lot of coordination, but the Agents have lodging, meals and transportation. We’re in the Navy’s back yard, so that’s building relationships … and now we have the Navy and the Marines attending our training.”
Standardizing investigation across the board and fostering interagency relationships is exactly what the Army Reserve CID-led training is attempting to accomplish.
“We’ve broken a stereotype,” said Deluccia, “The rest of the military looked at Army Reserve CID units as green-suiters who might have interrogated some detainees. They now come to us for training and look at us as leaders in law enforcement.”