Before each soldier's final trip home comes a heart-wrenching duty. A fellow soldier must first break the news that a life was lost — a father killed, a husband gone, a son dead.
It's a familiar scene from the movies, but for the families of the men killed this past week in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, it is all too real.
Saw Bad News Coming
David Anderson, whose son Army Ranger son Marc was killed in the battle, heard the doorbell late at night. His wife, Judith, peeked through the window. Without hearing a word, they knew.
"She said, 'Dave, Dave, get up. We have visitors. It's a chaplain and a first sergeant here,'" Anderson said. "And I just sat up in bed, and I said, 'Oh, no,' and I knew what it was."
It's a trip up the driveway Army Capt. George Antone has made before.
"This is the uniform, and when they see that, it's not good news," Antone said. "It takes a special officer. I mean, you really have to be caring and compassionate and show respect for that soldier that has passed away. And I don't think just anyone can do it."
Antone has told wives. He's told mothers. But this past week, for the first time, he had to tell a father — the father of Army Ranger Matthew Commons.
"This was the first time I went to the door and my knees were kind of shaking because it was a father," Antone said. "And how would you tell your father that his son passed away?"
Gregory Commons said when he opened the door, "I knew then that something serious had happened to my son.
"I had just hoped when I invited him [Antone] into my house that he was going to say, 'Your son's been critically wounded,' and when he told me he had been mortally wounded," Commons said, breaking down. "It was very difficult to hear those words and to know that I would never be able to hold or tell my son again that I loved him."
"Whether you say anything or not, being there for them [is important]," Antone said. "Mr. Commons wanted to small talk with me. I said, 'Sure. We can talk.'"
"He was very comforting," Gregory Commons said. "He didn't offer any words. He just let me talk. And obviously, in hindsight now, that was what he should have done."
Antone said it feels like a sacred duty, and that his mission is an emotional battlefield, as draining as the front lines.
The mission, as Antone sees it?
"Taking care of families," Antone said. "Taking care of Army families."