Lt. Col. James Parrish and Chief Warrant Officer Les Young at the Afghan Detention Facility in Parwan (Bagram).
The task force Parrish led conducts worldwide criminal investigations of terrorist acts committed against Americans by suspects who are not American citizens. Parrish said the task force was established shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001. Parrish said the Department of Defense created the organization because it was realized this was a new type of war, fought against extremists supported by violent organized crime.
“This is warfare intertwined with lawfare. ... A wartime environment where an agile, aggressive investigative agency can excel.” The motto of the task force is “Formidilosus Venators,” Latin for “Terror Hunter.”
Parrish said part of the hunt is to where the terrorists are “from the tip of the spear accompanying Special Forces and collecting evidence at the point of capture on the battlefield, to interview rooms where our agents sit knee to knee with the terrorists and elicit confessions, to testimony in the courtrooms.”
“It is a passion that binds us all,” Parrish said. “It is the passion to seek justice for the victims (and their families) of the 9/11 attacks and the terror attacks committed by al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“At the Task Force, the CITF agents get to turn that passion into action and bring justice to the terrorists in courts of law, whether that is in the military commissions trials in Guantanamo, the terrorist courts in Afghanistan or Iraq, or federal court in New York City.”
Parrish said when he commanded the unit, they investigated 700 cases that led to convictions in Iraqi civilian courts, well more than 1,000 convictions in Afghan courts and 11 current and adjudicated cases before a military commission in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Despite all the successful convictions, Parrish said, “Al-Qaida is still alive and well. ... This is a long war.”
Parrish said the task force’s work in investigating a crime for prosecution is similar to the work performed by local criminal investigation agencies. Just like local investigators work closely with district attorneys, so the task force works with the chief prosecutor of military commissions, Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins. The task force serves as his law enforcement agency.
Parrish said the task force began as a team made up of experienced military personnel and civilians from the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, The Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. They were supported by intelligence analysts, investigative attorneys and linguists. Parrish said together they “participate in the most significant terrorist investigations and terrorist trials in our nation’s history.”
In addition to shared passion, Parrish said there were many shared sacrifices experienced by the men and women of who serve in the armed forces. Parrish has also been close to two soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The first was Capt. Danny Graybeal, a medivac pilot who was shot down while on a mission over Kuwait on Feb. 27, 1991.
“He was one of my best friends,” said Parrish, who also served in Desert Storm. “We went to high school together, we went to college together, went through ROTC together and joined the Army at the same time.”
“With Danny, his family lost a friend and a brother, I lost one of my best friends, and Carter County lost a good man. Danny made the ultimate sacrifice and we love him and still miss him,” Parrish said.
The pain of the second loss is still fresh. Staff Sgt. Joe Peters was one of four soldiers killed Oct. 6 by an attack in the Zhari District of Afghanistan that included an improvised explosive device and a suicide bomber. Other soldiers killed in the attack included 1st Lt. Jennifer Moreno, Sgt. Patrick Hawkins and Pvt. 1st Class Cody Patterson. Peters had served two previous deployments to Afghanistan.
Although many investigators from the task force serve in high-risk areas, Parrish said Peters is the first member of the task force to be killed in action.
“He leaves a wife and a 20-month-old son who will never know his father,” Parrish said.
Parrish will be retiring from the military early next year. Most of his career was spent in the National Guard, and Parrish said he considers himself a “Citizen Soldier,” with an obligation to serve both his community and nation.
He enlisted in 1982 as a private in a combat engineer company. He later served as a platoon leader and was deployed during Desert Storm. While still in Saudi Arabia, he assumed command of the 1033rd Transportation Company, a unit of the Virginia National Guard. He also commanded the 1030th and 1032nd transportation companies and the Headquarters Detachment of the 639th Transportation Battalion.
Later in his career, he had the distinction of serving on the Army staff as aide to General Ann Dunwoody, when she served as the deputy chief of staff for logistics and later as Commander of the Army Material Command. She is the first woman to reach 4-star rank.
While he was serving in the National Guard, Parrish also had a distinguished career in law enforcement. He joined the Carter County Sheriff’s Department in 1987. He served in both the sheriff’s department and later in the Elizabethton Police Department. He returned to the sheriff’s department under Sheriff John Henson as a captain over patrol, operations and training in 1996. The following year he became Henson’s chief deputy.