MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC -- Master Sgt. Donald Parrish, the officer-in-charge of explosive ordnance disposal for Marine Wing Support Squadron 273, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with combat distinguishing device for Valor for his actions in Iraq in a ceremony aboard the Air Station Sept. 14.
Lieutenant Gen. John F. Sattler, the commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force, awarded the medal on behalf of the President to Parrish, recognizing him as “an absolute critical element to the ability of coalition forces to neutralize insurgent activity in the Babil and Al Anbar Provinces of Iraq.”
“I feel very humble,” Parrish said. “I was just simply there doing my job. It was very demanding and everybody stepped up and did there job out there.”
Although the Adrian, Ga., native is happy about receiving the award, he believes his Marines deserved it more.
“I have mixed feelings, because my Marines deserve to be here with me, if not before me,” Parrish said.
From Sept. 2004 to March 2005, Parrish served as the Team Leader for the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Platoon for Combat Service Support Battalion 1. He led his Marines in the destruction of 60 weapons caches, the disposal of 25,024 unexploded ordnance items and 226,000 small arms. In addition, he rendered safe 518 Improvised Explosive Devices within a 22-day period, many times under intense enemy fire.
Before joining the Marine Corps, Parrish had a scholarship to the Art Institute of Atlanta, but declined the scholarship and instead opted for life in the Marine Corps.
“I tried looking at things realistically and couldn’t see myself disciplined enough to go through school,” Parrish said. “I joined the Marine Corps because every other service seemed generic. I wanted something different.”
The 18-year veteran has served as an EOD technician for 15 years. He joined the Marine Corps in 1987 and was an Anti-Tank Assault man before transferring to EOD.
Parrish saw his first tour of the Lowcountry and his last as a grunt in 1989, when he served as a range coach aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
“The only way I saw myself staying in the Marine Corps was by laterally moving to public affairs or EOD,” Parrish said. “I liked the idea of dealing with media. While EOD would provide a greater challenge, there are so many aspects. I liked that fact that you could always learn something new.”
After completing the screening process in 1990, Parrish began his EOD career. He went to the first phase of EOD School in January 1991 and completed the second phase in August.
Parrish saw his first combat action with the EOD platoon, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejuene, N.C, in support of I Marine Expeditionary Force. He was then sent a second time to serve as a Team Leader for EOD Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, Combat Service Support Battalion 1, Combat Service Support Group 11, 1st Force Service Support Group, 1 Marine Expeditionary Force, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.
“I took a team of six EOD technicians and a corpsman to Camp Al Asad,” Parrish said. “Our primary mission were responses for Al Asad, the city of Hit, Rawa and Haditha. We responded when they found Improvised Explosive Devices, land mines and weapons caches. We also assisted with the destruction (of the devices).”
The mission soon changed for Parrish and his Marines. In October, they started to pull forces for Fallujah, according to Parrish.
“On Oct. 27 we were on a convoy to Fallujah, to start taking operations there,” Parrish said. “When we got there everything was hectic. Our mission was to check apartments, which were supposed to be rigged to blow.”
Before arriving at the apartments, Parrish and his platoon destroyed multiple IED’s planted all around their target’s perimeter.
“We cleared at least 6 IED’s within a quarter of a mile,” Parrish said. “We then cleared the streets and the apartments. The apartments were so close together that we literally could go rooftop to rooftop.”
Parrish and his platoon found everything from weapons to clothing. Some of the buildings had remote rockets on the rooftops that were aimed at the street, according to Parrish.
“Imagine every third house being full of something,” Parrish said. “We had to get in and blow the buildings up. We couldn’t take our time with everything, because we had three or four things being called in.”
In addition to keeping an intense pace, Parrish and his platoon had to deal with the firefights going on in the background.
“We could stand on the rooftop and see all the fighting going on,” Parrish said. “Sometimes we had to back up pretty far to blow a building and ended up at the edge of the firefight. We had to fight and then return back to our mission.”
Although it was a chaotic situation, Parrish credits his Marines’ performance.
“I went in very optimistic, although when they briefed me they told me that they expected a 30 percent casualty rate,” Parrish said. “We were going into a situation where the insurgents knew we were coming and set up traps for us.”
After receiving the Bronze Star, Parrish still feels that his best accomplishment was having his Marines make it back alive.
“We were going into the worst-case scenario and I was just hoping for me and my Marines to get back alive,” Parrish said. “I attribute my success to my Marines, they did an outstanding job.”