The soldiers of the 875th Engineers have done great work in Iraq, clearing roads of IEDs and other explosives for the past six months. They suffered their first loss on May 26th with the death of Spc. Erich Smallwood. Another soldier, SPC Marco Robledo, was also grievously wounded in the same incident. My son is a member of the 875th band of brothers and wrote me an email of reassurance….

Amy Schlesing, an Arkansas native is doing a great job as a reporter/embed with the 875th . Reading this account brought tears to my eyes.

The last four days have been a hazy blur.

And, they’ve been gravely familiar.

This is the aftermath of loss, when minds grasp for answers and hearts break. And through it all, there is a lot of waiting.

There is something terribly bothersome about knowing that someone has died before his family knows. For a day, we all waited for soldiers to walk up the path to Spc. Erich Smallwood’s sister’s house, knock on the door and tell her that he was gone.

Phones were turned off, Internet access locked down, but word still somehow spread back to the States.

Then we waited for the Department of Defense to tell the world about Smallwood’s death so we could tell his story.

As embedded journalists, we are bound by rules and our own ethics to delay the story of a soldier’s death until his family has been properly notified.

In those three days, we went on with our work, listening to the stories of his best friends and documenting memories of a man they’ll never see again.

And we watched the progression of grief all around us.

It’s not easy to watch — and not easy to be part of it. These are intimate moments for a platoon and a company and we are outsiders. But these men let us into their circle of grief, they opened their hearts and let their emotions flow without fear.

For that I am grateful.

It allowed me to better tell the story of Erich Smallwood and explain something that people at home will never fully understand — how close a platoon of soldiers becomes in war.

I first realized something bad had happened Saturday night during my nightly ritual — sitting outside sending e-mails home on our satellite modem and swatting at the sand flies that seem to think I’m a buffet.

Something was up. It showed in the way the soldiers acted. As Staton put it, “It was obvious.”

He and I have seen this sort of agitation before and it’s never good.

It was deep into evening, about 10 p.m., a time when camp falls into a relative lull. But that night, clutches of soldiers busily walked about, most of them falling silent as they came near. There was whispering and gatherings outside one of the company headquarters.

The air was filled with mumblings of panic and worry, the precursor to grief.

The clincher was the soldier who walked through the doors of Charlie Company as I was nervously pacing the hallways at 1:30 a.m., wondering what was happening and how bad it was.

He quickly mopped his wet cheeks, trying to clear them of tears. I could hear the sniffling as he rushed into a nearby room.

Oh no.

Read on.

UPDATE:

The family that helped to raise Spc. Smallwood share their memories of him.