TAMPA — It's the visit every military family fears.
Casualty assistance officers knock on the door, a letter bearing solemn news in hand: The war claimed a loved one.
Most families never experience such grief. At the ages of 6 and 9, Tyler and Jason Allen Fabrizi of Riverview have endured it twice.
Officers knelt to the boys' level Tuesday evening as they told them their father, Sgt. 1st Class Jason John Fabrizi, had died in Afghanistan.
Two years ago, their stepfather suffered a similar fate in Iraq.
"The kids were pretty close to both of them," said Dora Mae Anderson, the boys' maternal grandmother. "It's bad enough if you lose one in that war. But when you know two people, oh, man, it's sickening."
Fabrizi, 29, was stationed in Colorado with his second wife and third son before his most recent tour. The couple was expecting a daughter in October.
But Anderson said Fabrizi called the boys almost every day. They spent last summer with him in Colorado, playing Little League. He instilled in them a passion for sports and told them to mind their teachers.
"I think we are all still just in shock because it's so hard to believe," said Teri Bell, Fabrizi's ex-wife. "They talked to their dad just a week ago on the phone."
Bell's second husband, Ryan, was also in the Army. He was killed by an explosion in 2007.
Fabrizi had spent 30 months in Iraq over the course of three separate tours, collecting top military honors for his combat leadership.
"He led troops during all 30 months, whereas a lot of guys take the easy way out and they take an office job," said Timothy Hess, Fabrizi's stepfather and a retired Marine gunnery sergeant. "He loved doing his job and he went out on every patrol, every time."
But family members say his pending stint in Afghanistan left Fabrizi with an inkling he did not recognize. Something felt wrong.
So he planned a weeklong fishing trip to the Keys with Tyler, Jason Allen and other members of his family.
"He knew what it was like to be a child and to have me gone and in the combat environment," said Hess, who saw action in Somalia. "He knew what he was putting his kids through and he knew it wasn't good."
Though Fabrizi had survived the war multiple times, relatives still uttered words of caution before his deployment.
"I told him all the time, 'Keep your head down,' " Anderson said. "He said, 'Don't worry mom, I will.' "
Fabrizi's mounted patrol was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms in the Konar province Tuesday.
"I had talked to him about a week, week-and-a-half before it happened," said Jarrod Hess, Fabrizi's stepbrother. "He was in such good spirits. I just wish I would have talked to him longer. If I had just known."
For the adults, the loss is unsettling, but not unreasonable. It's easier to rationalize Fabrizi's decision to leave and the cause he championed wholeheartedly.
But for Tyler and Jason Allen, Anderson said they cannot yet fully comprehend what has happened. They know their dad left and will not come back. They know the same war has deprived them of two father figures.
Jay Wedel works with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a group that mentors children who have lost parents to war. A retired Air Force honor guardsman, Wedel has worked with children for seven years and seen many grow into their teens.
He said many young children are left with feelings of confusion and anger over why they had to grow up without one parent.
"These kids kind of have that continual hole," Wedel said. "It stays with them, but they get to a point where they are healthy with their grief."
Anderson and other family members said they will one day share with the boys why Fabrizi's death was so valiant and how he benefited the country.
They will eventually describe how he earned a Purple Heart, two Army Commendation Medals, two Bronze Stars and more than a dozen other accolades during his military career.
But for now, Anderson said they have to explain Fabrizi's death in terms the boys can understand. Especially 6-year-old Tyler, who still idolizes action heroes like Spider-Man.
"He's a hero, too," Anderson said of Fabrizi.
"He's just like him?" Tyler responded.
"Yep," she said, "just like Spider-Man."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.