‘Wounded Warriors’ Learn Digital Forensics at Military Medical Facilities

More than two dozen wounded soldiers and sailors sat inside a classroom at the Naval Station in Norfolk, Va., and listened to a Mississippi State University computer science instructor tell them about a second career option. They all shared an interest in becoming digital detectives…These men and women in uniform learn techniques to fight cyber crime through digital forensics. For injured veterans or active duty soldiers likely leaving the military due to injuries, this opportunity can help them create an income to support themselves and their families. Fitting for people with injuries, digital forensics requires little mobility.

Wearing his camouflage battle dress uniform, Phillip Granderson, 39, of St. Louis, Mo., listened to the instructor explain methods and techniques in the introductory cyber crime course. Granderson considered himself a lucky man to sit in this classroom—or just to be alive. Recently he returned from Iraq after suffering injuries from an enemy attack. After surgery for his injuries, Granderson has two screws in his shoulder. He’s even thinking about cyber crime fighting after he leaves active duty in the military.

“I called the police department back home to see if they needed help in the forensics department,” said Granderson, who has served a decade in the military. “This is something to go home to.”

Retired Army Col. Ray Vaughn, department head of computer science and engineering at Mississippi State, and David Dampier, a retired Army major and associate professor of computer science and engineering at MSU, created this program for soldiers, sailors and marines like Granderson and dozens others who have completed the course, available at no cost to them. From missing arms or legs to more subtle injures, such as neck problems, the professional opportunities Vaughn and Dampier created in digital forensics provide an employment option for “wounded warriors.”

Norfolk isn’t the only medical facility where MSU instructors have taught digital forensics courses. The program has trained wounded soldiers in other places including the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery VA hospital in Jackson. The digital forensics courses are based on the model Mississippi State has used to train more than 3,200 law enforcement officers from more than 25 states in the field of digital forensics.

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Speak with Vaughn about his military experience and you’ll learn he has never forgotten his fellow soldiers from his Vietnam days more than four decades ago. Through this program, the computer science professor has found another way to assist wounded veterans from the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan and other places around the globe. This may even lead to improved quality of life after these veterans leave the military, helping them find potential employment after experiencing life-changing injuries.

“Soldiers and sailors need all of the support and gratitude that the American people can give them,” Vaughn said. “They put service to this nation first and we owe them a debt of gratitude because of that.”

With more than 25 years of experience in the field, Vaughn has a depth of knowledge about computer security that he uses to assist veterans. He has helped establish MSU as one of the leading computer security centers in the nation. Vaughn and Dampier have developed the Center for Computer Security Research, a Cyber Corps program, a National Forensics Training Center, and other significant programs in the field.

Vaughn and Dampier blended digital forensics training and a desire to help veterans when they created the three-year, $1-million program funded by the National Science Foundation to teach digital forensics to wounded veterans. The program includes partnerships with Auburn and Tuskegee universities in Alabama.
Dampier said the program gives veterans who experience disabilities on the battlefield another career option.

“One of the worst things about being disabled is worrying about ‘what my future will be like now that I can’t do what I know how to do,’” said Dampier, director of MSU’s National Forensics Training Center. “This gives them options they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

For John Fauer, 52, who has spent 24 years serving his country in the Navy, he views the digital forensics option as a way to supplement his income after leaving military service. Along with the honor and pride from serving his country, Fauer will leave the Navy missing two vertebrae from his neck. During his active duty in Kuwait, his injury has limited his physical abilities but not his desire to stay active.

When Fauer returns to Detroit in after his military discharge, he plans to follow up with the digital forensics employment option. He has purchased informative books to learn more about the field. He said his background in information technology makes employment as a cyber detective a logical fit. He has become such a believer in the program that he has already recruited several of his friends to become cyber sleuths.

“I informed them about what we covered in the class and said it’s something they’d be interested in doing,” Fauer said. “It’s a good fit for me.”

Vaughn said more advanced opportunities exist for people like Fauer who would like to pursue more intensive studies of digital forensics. The SANS Institute, a national organization that provides information security training, now offers 10 graduates of the MSU digital forensics courses $3,500 scholarships to continue studying in SANS classes.

“What we’re trying to do is help those who may have had a traumatic experience during their military career, or for some reason cannot continue in their military service and need to make a career change,” he said. “We’re trying to offer them hope and a new vocation.”

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