Forensic Science Grads Working in Afghanistan for U.S. Army

Most forensic science students envision careers spent working in city or county crime labs and testifying in US courts. But for a number of recent graduates of the master's in forensic science and law program, that career vision now includes deployment to Afghanistan.

Since 2009, seven Duquesne forensic science and law graduates have been hired by the US Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory (USA CIL) in Atlanta.

"It's quite remarkable that they hired a couple of our graduates, continued to be pleased with them and then hired more," said Dr. Fred Fochtman, director of the forensic science and law program of the Bayer School for Natural and Environmental Sciences. "It's a good site for our students to launch their careers."

Christine Swanson, a 2010 graduate of the program, started her career with the USA CIL as a latent print examiner shortly after graduating.

"Duquesne prepared me very well for the job," Swanson said. "It helped starting right out of school because a lot of that basic knowledge in forensic science was still very fresh in my mind."

The USA CIL has two main divisions: a forensic analysis division, which is a traditional crime lab based in Atlanta, and the expeditionary forensics division for which Swanson works.

"We're really different because our division is deployable," Swanson explained. "Rather than working to provide evidence for court cases, our end goal is to provide intelligence to the military community overseas."

Swanson's first deployment to Afghanistan was from Aug. 2011 to May 2012.

"At first it was a little intimidating," Swanson said of the deployment. "But it proved to be a deeply rewarding experience. I feel good about what I do. I'm able to see how my work directly helps the active-duty military who are putting their lives on the line for us."

While the venue for her work might be different, Swanson said the work itself is the same.

"I work in fingerprints, so the science part of the job is the same," she said. "We follow the same guidelines and standards that we would if we were preparing our analysis for court."

With the United States working to pull troops out of Afghanistan, the USA CIL expeditionary forensics division is looking ahead.

"The goal is to be able to deploy within a week to anywhere the military might need our services," Swanson said. "We could deploy to another area of conflict, but we could also provide relief assistance. For example, after natural disasters such as the recent tsunamis we couple provide DNA and fingerprint analysis to help identify victims."

Wherever her position with the USA CIL may take Swanson, one thing is certain: the job will be anything but ordinary.

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