ROCKVILLE, Md. -- Sometimes the remains of American war dead arrive at the military morgue intact, sealed inside a "human remains pouch" -- a body bag.
Sometimes they arrive as "dissociated remains" -- a leg, an arm or other body parts ripped loose by the force of a roadside bomb or suicide bomber or air crash.
And sometimes there are "co-mingled remains" of several victims of a blast or crash, including service members, civilian bystanders and, in some cases, a suicide bomber.
Air Force Lt. Col. Laura Regan literally lays hands on remains of the dead. For U.S. troops killed in action, she is among the last service members to touch them as she tries to provide families of the fallen with the full truth about their deaths.
As the military's only active duty forensic anthropologist, Regan unravels mysteries borne of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the most common cause of death is not a bullet but a homemade bomb. She uses DNA, fingerprints, tissue analysis and painstaking observation to make positive identifications. Part of her "noble mission," she says, is making sure the remains survivors receive belong to their loved ones -- and no one else.