Sunshine and somber music filled Vogelweh’s chapel as Army law enforcement Soldiers honored the memory of Sgt. Joseph Peters — the first special agent from the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, known as CID — to die in combat since the command was established in 1971.
Peters, 24, of Springfield, Mo., was killed Oct. 6 by enemy explosives in Zhari District, near Kandahar, Afghanistan.
“The thin blue line is truly thinner today,” said Sgt. Justin Link, using a colloquial term for police forces known well to the gathering of mostly military police Soldiers.
Peters enlisted in 2007, working in Army intelligence. He deployed to Iraq in 2008 and 2009. Promoted to sergeant in 2010, Peters became a CID special agent and was posted to the 286th Military Police Detachment in Vicenza, Italy — a close-knit team of 12 Soldiers and Italian employees. At Caserma Ederle, Peters investigated 60 felony-level cases. He was a diligent and determined agent who liked to break the seriousness of police work with good humor, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chris Kellenberger.
“He worked hard,” Kellenberger said. “He was fun to be around. He liked to have a good time and loved what he was doing. He’d be serious when he needed to to get his job done.”
In April 2013, he deployed to Afghanistan in support of U.S. Special Operations Command. Part of an elite team, Peters took part in classified missions in remote areas.
At the service, Peters’ wife Ashley and their son Gabriel sat in the first pews with Peters’ parents, Dennis and Debbie. The family traveled from Missouri to take part in the memorial. Soldiers quietly reflected as Pfc. Anthony Oliveira, from the Wiesbaden CID unit, played a spiritual song on his guitar. Outside, Soldiers from the 18th Military Police Brigade fired volleys followed by a bugler sounding taps.
Although casualties among CID Soldiers are rare, the dangers they face each day — either in garrison or deployed to combat zones — are not, said Lt. Col. Sarah K. Albrycht, commander of the 5th MP Battalion.
“The loss of agent Peters was a shock,” Albrycht said. “It hurts so much to lose one of your own.”
Peters was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with valor, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the NATO Medal and the Combat Action Badge.
The U.S. Army Europe command team, Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr. and Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr., attended the service, as did several senior Army and Air Force leaders from the KMC.
After a chaplain’s prayer, Peters’ co-workers and friends spoke about their fallen comrade.
For a few days, the office was in disbelief, Kellenberger said.
“Since then, we’ve accepted it. It’s the nature of what we volunteered to do,” Kellenberger said. “With that acceptance, we’ve become a little more lighthearted. We tell stories about Joe.”
Peters was both mentor and friend to Link, 26, of North Brunswick, N.J., who arrived in Vicenza a year after Peters. As CID agents, they investigated felony crimes from assaults to drugs and larcenies.
“We started working cases together. He was my partner,” Link said. “He was a ‘bro’ at heart. He was the guy who, when we’re getting ready to go home, would ask, ‘Who wants to go get a beer?’”
Close in age and younger than their colleagues, the agents found solace at the Arena, Caserma Ederle’s on-post watering hole, talking over Hefeweizen beers — a way to leave the day’s stressors behind.
A heavy metal music fan and budding guitarist, Peters was known for his energy. In Italy, they visited castles and nearby Soave. Another memorable trip was to the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
“He loved to get out. He didn’t like sitting at home. He always wanted to do something,” Link said. “He had a lot of energy. That rubbed off on everybody in the office.”
When Peters deployed, Link missed hanging out with his buddy. The office was much quieter.
That Sunday, Oct. 6, Link was catching up on “Breaking Bad”
episodes when Peters’ wife, Ashley, sent him a message from the states saying his friend was dead. He sat for a couple of minutes just shaking his head.
“I was expecting it to just be a mistake, to find out a couple hours later that it was the wrong Joe Peters or (they) mixed his Social Security number up or something,” Link said. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
Link called Staff Sgt. Brian Mason, who was at home looking for his keys and getting ready for supper with his girlfriend.
“I got some news for you (about Joe),” Mason recalled Link saying. “Joe (died).”
Mason, 31, of Carlsbad, N.M., tried to keep his composure, but the tears came quickly.
“It was devastating. I was in disbelief,” Mason said. “It was a very somber moment for me.”
Peters was two weeks shy of coming home, Link said. While on assignment in Germany, Link found a case of Samuel Adams Octoberfest beer, to celebrate once Peters returned. The case was never
opened. Peters’ friends plan to drink it and celebrate his memory, Link said.
Shortly before his death, Peters mailed a flag he’d carried on a mission to Mason. But Mason, who also served in Afghanistan, wanted to wait until Peters returned to Vicenza to open it — a decision he said he now regrets.
“I was looking forward to him coming back,” Mason said.
A week after Peters’ death, Mason looked inside. Along with the flag was a hand-scrawled note filled with Peters’ comical sense of humor, Mason said, both smiling and tearful as he recalled his friend’s gesture.
“I waited to open it,” Mason said. “I never got a chance to say, ‘Thank you.’”