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Cold War-era device used by Iraqi insurgents to kill FLW medic
Cold War-era device used by Iraqi insurgents to kill FLW medic

Spec. Dusty Parrish walks in front of some of the heavy route clearance vehicles used by the 5th Engineers in Iraq.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (June 8, 2009) — A young Army medic from Fort Leonard Wood was so popular that more than 200 soldiers lined up outside his surgical room last week in Iraq offering to donate blood in an unsuccessful attempt to save his life, according to his brigade commander.

“You can recognize how busy they are over there, but they all rallied, and I think they would rally for any member of their organization, but it says a lot about him and about those soldiers over there,” said Col. Rob Risberg, who commands a higher headquarters unit overseeing the 5th Engineer Battalion in which Spec. Charles “Dusty” Parrish, 23, had served.

Parrish died on Thursday in the Iraqi city of Balad due to wounds suffered earlier that day when his vehicle was hit from close range by a hand-thrown anti-tank grenade while doing route clearance operations in the Iraqi city of Jalula. His death was announced Saturday by Fort Leonard Wood and Department of Defense officials; he was a platoon medic for the 55th Mobility Augmentation Company, one of the subordinate units of the 5th Engineers.

Speaking Monday morning at the stateside headquarters of the 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, which oversees the 5th Engineers, Risberg said Parrish is survived by his wife and a 4-year-old son who are living in Parrish’s hometown in Alabama. The battalion is scheduled to return in July after a deployment that began in May 2008, Risberg said. Fort Leonard Wood spokesmen said a return date previously reported by Alabama media is not correct.

Parrish had recently re-enlisted in the Army while serving in the Iraqi combat theater. He was the second soldier from the brigade to die since the 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade was organized last year as a headquarters unit; the most recent death was in December from the 94th Engineer Battalion, a different unit in the same brigade.

The device used to kill Parrish was an old Soviet-made weapon from the Cold War era, Risberg said.

“It has been growing in use, to my understanding, among the insurgents and the terrorists in Iraq over the last year or so,” Risberg said. “It has, unfortunately, a very good penetrating capability into armored vehicles.”

Nobody else was killed or wounded in the attack, Risberg said.

Documentation provided by Fort Leonard Wood personnel indicated that the anti-tank grenade must be thrown from close range, usually 15 to 20 meters. Risberg said he didn’t have information on what happened to the grenade-thrower, but said the device did penetrate a vehicle in which Parrish had been riding.

“Whenever an attack happens that seriously injures or kills one of our soldiers over there, the unit launches an investigation. It’s part of the standard procedure and it’s primarily focused on determining exactly what happened so if there are any ways that we can change our tactics or do anything differently to better protect our soldiers, they’ll determine those things,” Risberg said.

The 5th Engineers have some of the most dangerous duties in Iraq — clearing routes so that other soldiers can do their jobs and both civilian and military convoys can get through.

“They’ve got some very specialized equipment,” Risberg said. “They drive the major routes and supply lines and other major roadways in Iraq and are designed to clear them of IEDs — improvised explosive devices, roadside bombs, those things.”

Memorial services have already been held in Iraq; a memorial service at Fort Leonard Wood and a funeral in Alabama will be held at an unknown future date.

“We take this very seriously, our obligations to the families of our fallen heroes,” Risberg said.

That includes a casualty assistance officer appointed to work with the family in Alabama. Key items will include helping Parrish’s widow and other family members meet her husband’s remains when they return to Dover Air Force Base if they wish to do so, helping with paperwork needed to file for survivor benefits, making funeral arrangements, and assisting with travel to Fort Leonard Wood for the military memorial service if they wish to do.

“Normally there is quite a lot to do in the first few weeks after a tragedy like this happens,” Risberg said. “(The casualty assistance officer) stays with them for as long as they are needed; there is no time limit on it. If the family still needs help six months down the road, then the casualty assistance officer will be there to assist them.”

Parrish’s platoon leader will be coming home early and attend the Alabama funeral to represent the battalion commander and its soldiers, Risberg said.

While Parrish was one of 11 servicemembers who died last week, Risberg said that doesn’t represent a consistent uptick in the violence in Iraq of Afghanistan.

“Luckily the casualty rates are much reduced this year than they were last year; I think we’ve all seen the steady progress that’s been made over there,” Risberg said. “It is still a dangerous place, it is still a war, and unfortunately soldiers are still wounded and killed in both Iraq and Afghanistan.”

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