Archaeologist unearths way to help our veterans

Most archaeologists work in sheltered environments and in isolation. Not Dr. Sonny Trimble. He's the forensic archaeologist who uncovered Saddam Hussein's crimes against his own people, and went on a massive hunt for mass graves in the deserts of Iraq.


Trimble heads the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections -- and, for three years starting in 2004, helped uncover the evidence needed to try Saddam, "Chemical Ali" and other top Iraqi officials in the Anfal trial in Baghdad.

Saddam murdered thousands of Iraqis and buried them with front-end loaders in the desert. Trimble and his team helped uncover evidence of this genocide and helped bring those responsible to justice in the country's reborn criminal justice system.

DURING THE TRIAL that ended with Saddam's conviction and execution, Trimble faced hostile questions from the former Iraqi president, who was personally allowed to cross-examine him. The discovery of these crimes happened in the middle of a war zone. Trimble and his team had to dodge IEDs, insurgents and gunfire. He credits the Army and Marine Corps for his team's survival, and said he left Iraq with a deep sense of gratitude for those who served our country in uniform.

That's how the Veterans Curation Project was born.

A little more than a year after returning from Iraq, Trimble created a program to match wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who need job skills and jobs with the Army Corps of Engineers' need to curate its vast collection of artifacts. When engineers build dams and other construction projects, the work often uncovers artifacts. Boxes of these collections -- which number in the thousands -- sit in warehouses across the nation, waiting to be catalogued and curated.

The Veterans Curation Project brings together two national treasures: wounded veterans and the nation's artifacts. The veterans learn how to sort, clean, photograph and scan the items into records, learning photography, inventory and computer skills.

Perhaps most importantly, they learn they are still valued by us as a nation and valuable to us as productive workers. They transition out of the program to other civilian jobs with the help of partners such as the Georgia Department of Labor, the Veterans Administration and community mentors.

THIS PROGRAM began first in Augusta, and more veterans have graduated from the program here than in the other two sites, in St. Louis and Washington, D.C. Moreover, Augusta is the only site where active-duty personnel from Fort Gordon's Warrior Transition Battalion can come in for the training components.

Augusta owes a great deal to Trimble. His work with the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project to launch this innovative training and employment program has helped further establish Augusta as a model community for determining how to harness resources to meet the needs of our service members, veterans and their families.

Trimble has incredible stories to tell about the Veterans Curation Project and his experiences in Iraq. If you would like to hear his stories or meet him, he will speak at noon Thursday, Feb. 24, at the Augusta Museum of History. He's giving the lunchtime lecture, and I hope to see you there!

(The writer is executive director of the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project.)