When Marcus Mathes and Bryan Harvey shipped out to Iraq together in November, they made a vow with their wives, sisters Julia Mathes and Heather Harvey.
If anything happened, they would take care of each other. Now it's time to fulfill that promise.
Mathes, a 26-year-old sergeant, died Monday in a rocket attack in Baghdad. Harvey, a driver in the 94th Battle Support Battalion, was nearby when the explosion happened but wasn't hurt.
Soon, Bryan Harvey will be reunited with his wife and grief-stricken sister-in-law; commanders have given him permission to come back for Mathes' funeral.
"This is soooo crazy," Harvey wrote to his wife in an online message Wednesday morning. "I don't even know what happened. … I do, but I can't believe it did."
Heather Harvey, 26, said Mathes was the first close friend her husband lost in the war. Now he just wants to come home to his family.
"Him being there will really help me," said Julia Mathes, 26. Harvey knows all the little details she's aching to hear: what time the attack happened, what her husband was wearing and what flavor of smoothies they had last.
"I am so relieved that (Harvey) is okay. I can't imagine what it would be like if something happened to both of them," Julia Mathes said.
She and her husband met at a night school sign language class in 2000. She was a sophomore at Pasco High, and he was a junior at Zephyrhills High. They were married in 2002, two weeks after she graduated.
Marcus Mathes left for boot camp on his 23rd birthday, March 15, 2005.
The next year, her sister came to visit them at their home on the base in Fort Polk, La. The Matheses introduced her sister to Harvey, who is from Camillus, N.Y.
Heather Harvey wasn't looking for love. She had a daughter from an earlier relationship. She was finishing her bachelor's degree at the University of South Florida. Two months later, she and Bryan Harvey were married.
Mathes was so excited when her sister moved to the base. There were taco nights and holidays together. There were parties and jokes and arguments and a lot of love.
Heather Harvey said the men were like brothers.
"They knew how to press each other's buttons, and they did it often, just like I do with Julia. I know exactly what to say to make her mad. I know exactly what to say to make her smile. They did, too."
Mathes kept her home on base spick-and-span. The Harveys usually had folded laundry piled on the couch.
The Harveys have a 6-month-old son named Kayne, in addition to Heather Harvey's daughter, Elyse, 8. The Matheses had planned to wait a few years before they had kids.
And while Bryan Harvey looked forward to coming home in March 2009, Mathes wanted to serve forever.
In high school, Mathes was in JROTC. He was told that because he took Ritalin for his ADHD, he would not be accepted in the military. But the military changed those rules, his mother said, and he wanted to enlist.
He threw the idea by her.
"As a mother, I would be terrified," Sue Sawyer, 52, of Sebring, told her son. "But I would be so proud of you."
His parents divorced when he was 2, and Mathes had split his childhood between their two homes. He told his parents he wanted to serve in the military so someone else could come home.
With his dad, Mathes shared what he could of his missions, first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq.
"It was kind of father-to-son stuff," said Ralph Mathes, 56, of Tampa.
Sawyer set up an alarm to ring whenever her son came online. Even if they didn't talk, she knew he was alive.
When she visited him on base, some of the soldiers told her they would die for her son. Though she can't remember if Bryan Harvey ever said that, she knows he feels that way.
"There was such a bond, they are truly brothers," she said.
No date has been set for Mathes' funeral. In addition to his wife and parents, he leaves behind two brothers, Kyle Mathes, 27, and Zach Sawyer, 17.