Where Did You Find or Leave Bear?: Rockville, MD, USA

One day Lucy asked her host Jenney if she could go along to Jenney’s work. After making several inquiries, Lucy received the all clear visit and with much excitement she was off to visit the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also known as AFDIL. This laboratory is the only one of its kind in the world is responsible for the identification of U.S. service members who are killed in the line of duty. Only a small portion of the lab focuses on current cases, with the majority of staff working on individuals who are missing-in-action (MIA) or who were prisoners-of-war (POW) during previous U.S. conflicts such as World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

The first thing that Lucy learned during her day at the DNA lab is that you need to wear a lot of protective clothing. A lab coat, goggles, and gloves are a must, and in some work areas additional sleeves and a mask are required. The reason is so that the DNA Analysts don’t accidentally contaminate their samples with modern DNA. Most of the samples they work are either teeth or bones and they are between 40 years (Vietnam Conflict) and 70 years (WWII) old. After getting properly attired, Lucy took a tour of the laboratory and got a chance to peer through a window into one of the laboratory workspaces. Lucy watched as an Analyst sanded and cleaned a small fragment of bone.

It surprised Lucy to learn that the majority of DNA Analysts in the U.S.A. were women and the whole field of Forensic Science is heavily populated by women. It is such a fun area to work in and most scientists took a lot of math and science classes in schools.

Lucy also learned that LTC William L. Kieffer Jr., the name she made a rubbing of while visiting the Vietnam Memorial, was just recently identified and has been returned to his family. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery next spring. LTC Kieffer’s aircraft had been shot down over the country of Laos on 11 February 1970. His remains were recovered on 9 April 2007 and finally identified on 26 April 2010. It took three years of hard work by many people across the United States to return LTC Kieffer’s most precious possession… his name. The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory is one group of those people. Others include Forensic Anthropologists and Odontologists (Dentists) at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii. Approximately 80 individuals a year are identified.

Lucy learned how the anthropologists look closely at the bones, looking for a biological profile; the height, stature, gender, and age of the individual. They also look for healed injuries that might help figure out who the individual is. They use antemortem, or prior to death, medical and dental records to compare to the bones recovered. It is a very long and slow process, but very important at the same time. After her day at the DNA Laboratory, Lucy went back into Washington DC to see the Monuments lit up at night. While she was there, she lit a candle for LTC William L. Kieffer Jr. and his family.

Until they are Home…

One Response to “How do you spell DNA?”

  • admin:

    This is such a great experience for Lucy and for Tolly to to learn of other’s wortk. We seem to be missing a couple of images. If you get chance could you send the missing ones to us. Many thanks.

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