We watched as they deployed to the Middle East, and then Sunday there was news of three Fort Stewart soldiers who died in Iraq, leaving behind loving families to cope with a terrible loss. WTOC spoke with one of the wives this morning.
Angela Gooding is hanging in there, but understandably she didn't want to go on camera.
Three days ago, she learned her husband, 21-year-old Spec. Dakotah Gooding, was dead. Now she helps us understand her pain and the young man family and friends called Coty.
January 10, he told his wife to remember one thing. "The only time I have to worry is if there is a knock on the door," she said.
Sunday night, Angela got that knock. "It's the worst feeling in the world to see two men in uniform standing there. I said, 'You don't have to tell me, I already know.'"
Coty was gone. His lieutenants called from Iraq with condolences and details. "There was a shooting at his camp by a terrorist," she told us.
Angela says Coty and his unit went on a 5:30am mission to find the terrorists on a cold, dark Iraqi morning. Suddenly, there was a problem. "They didn't see the turn, and their Humvee flipped into the canal."
Coty, along with 22-year-old Sgt. Rene Knox and 26-year-old Sgt. Chad Lake, was trapped inside. Fellow soldiers, risking their lives, jumped into the freezing water to save their brothers. But it was too late.
"They said his friend performed CPR for hours," said Angela. "Nothing helped. He told me nothing would take him away from me and he would be back and we'd start a family."
In one instant, those dreams were shattered. The next day, reality set in. "He sent flowers to my job on Valentine's Day, and I can't tell him thank you," Angela said.
As she looks around her home, she says everything reminds her of Coty. "He bought me my house. He bought me a car. And he got me my dogs. One on Christmas last year and this year, one dog apiece."
There's nothing she won't miss. "Him blasting into the house after work, yelling, 'Gi Gi I am home,'" she recalled. "He's loving and caring and treats me good, and always has something funny to say."
But she knew Coty was doing what he loved. "That's always what he wanted to do was join the military."
Thousands of families understand what Angela is going through. Thousands more are praying it won't happen to them. They can still tell their loved ones what Angela wishes she could tell hers. "How much I loved him and his family loved him and how much he means to me."
Angela says Coty planned on eventually getting out of the Army.
Memorial and funeral plans are still underway. There will be a memorial service in Hinesville tomorrow night for Sgt. Rene Knox.