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Army CID agent killed in Afghanistan first to die in combat since 1971

Special Agent Joe Peters, shown in this photo from his Facebook page, was assigned to the 286th Military Police Detachment, based in Vicenza, Italy, and was assisting Special Forces when he was killed along with three others in Zhari District, Afghanistan on Oct. 6, 2013. He was the first Army Criminal Investigation Command special agent to be killed in combat since 1971, when CID was established as a major Army command.

FACEBOOK PHOTO

By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 16, 2013

VICENZA, Italy — Special Agent Joe Peters looked at the photos of a colleague working outside the wire in Afghanistan and felt a little jealous.

“He’s deployed. He gets to do the real stuff,” Peters said.

The Army Criminal Investigation Command special agent, a sergeant who’d joined the Army right out of high school and who was known in the 286th Military Police Detachment in Vicenza, Italy, for his long hours and smooth interviews, wanted to be on the front lines.

“He wanted to do the exciting thing,” said Special Agent Brian Mason, whose deployment photos Peters had commented on. “You feel good that you’re out there helping, risking your life to protect our nation.”

In April, his wish granted, Peters, 24, said goodbye to his wife and infant son and boarded a plane for Afghanistan.

On Oct. 6, just as his deployment was ending, he was killed in a devastating series of blasts from suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices in an Afghan compound west of Kandahar accompanying Army Rangers on a night raid.

He was the first Criminal Investigation Command agent to be killed in combat since 1971, when the organization was established as a major Army command, said Christopher Grey, CID spokesman. The organization is known as CID because of its historical connection to the Army’s criminal investigation divisions.

“It’s a big loss,” said Special Agent Francesco Santochi, another friend and colleague at the close-knit detachment. “Not only on a personal level, but also on a professional level.”

Almost all of the detachment, whose members number fewer than a dozen, will be traveling to Peters’ memorial service to be held at the 5th MP Battalion Headquarters in Kaiserslautern, Germany, tentatively scheduled for later this week.

Pfc. Cody Patterson, 24, and Sgt. Patrick Hawkins, 25, both with the 75th Ranger Regiment, and 1st. Lt. Jennifer Moreno, 25, a nurse working with the special operations cultural support team, were also killed in the operation.

Up to 30 more troops were injured in the attack that rendered them “combat ineffective,” officials said, but no information on their condition, nor how many were Afghan, had been released.

According to defense officials, the Rangers’ mission was to capture a high-value target at his home.

After the soldiers ordered people inside the home to come out, someone appearend and detonated a suicide vest. When soldiers went to help the injured, some 11 IEDs exploded, officials said in early reports.

A Taliban spokesman said insurgents detonated a bomb inside the house when the soldiers entered, then a suicide bomber hiding in the house detonated his explosives when the wounded soldiers’ comrades rushed to help, according to The New York Times.

Peters’ role in the mission, Grey said, had to do with “specialized training and capabilities such as evidence collection that have proven invaluable to special operations forces.”

The Americans were partnered with Afghan troops, according to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Coalition forces’ casualties have sharply dropped this year, as Afghan forces have assumed much of the fighting and foreign troops have drawn down. Partnered operations have become rarer except among special operations troops.

Grey declined to say how many CID agents — who in garrison investigate felonies, akin to civilian police detectives — have deployed to war zones in the past 42 years.

“I can tell you we have agents deployed worldwide and wherever there are (s)oldiers — either in garrison or in a combat zone. CID agents also provide counter-terrorism support, criminal intelligence support, force protection, forensic laboratory investigative support, and protective services for key Department of Defense and senior Army leadership,” he said.

Additionally, CID agents comprise a large portion of those assigned to the Criminal Investigation Task Force. That Defense Department task force activated in 2002 to conduct investigations of suspected terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

CID agents, like the FBI, eschew harsh interrogation methods. Instead, they seek to establish a rapport with suspects.

Peters happened to excel at that, his colleagues said.

“He was very calm, very detached,” Santochi said. “He never showed emotion or judgment. Try to gain trust or rapport, which is the most important thing for us to do our jobs.”

Peters, whose pre-CID background was in Army intelligence, was analytical, said Special Agent Justin Link. Peters took the CID motto – “Do What Has to be Done” – to heart, Link said.

“As corny as it sounds, he really did,” Link said. “He had it written on the back of his business card.”

He was always trying to improve. “We’re not overworked here. But I’d see him working until 2300 (11 p.m.) a lot of nights,” Mason said.

Peters had already gotten his next, plum assignment. After re-enlisting for five years while deployed, Peters was to be assigned to the Army Protective Services Battalion, which provides protection to people such as the secretary of defense and other high-ranking military officials.

Peters’ death has been devastating to the detachment.

“I thought I’d get a call – ‘We made a mistake,’ ’’ Santochi said. “I couldn’t really believe it. Then, finally, it kicks in and you realize you’re never going to see him again.

“He didn’t deserve to die,” Santochi said. “No one does. But this guy was a great person.”

Peters went to Afghanistan with his eyes open, said Mason.

“He understood the risks of the mission. You’re going where people have a scope on you and want to take you down, where they have booby-traps,” he said. Peters wasn’t scared of much, but he did tell Mason he was afraid he might not be up to being a father. Those fears melted after his son, Gabriel, was born 20 months ago, Mason said.

“He told me that he was happy, and loved being a dad, that he was no longer scared, and was learning something new.”

montgomery.nancy@stripes.com

Special Agent Joe Peters at an Aviano, Italy, rife range in November. Peters and among four people killed in Zhari district, Afghanistan, on Oct. 6. He was the first Army Criminal Investigation Command special agent to be killed in combat since 1971, when CID was established as a major Army command. Courtesy Brian Mason
COURTESY BRIAN MASON

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