It wasn't long after the U.S. invaded Iraq in early 2003 that the Defense Department started sending out the announcements of troops killed in action.
The simple facts-only e-mails hit my in-box with a thud.
I opened each with trepidation, fearing that I would know the name.
What I found, though, was that I didn't have to know the person to feel a flood of emotion.
The first 20-something casualty made me think about my own age. My own hopes. My own mortality and fear of dying young.
The first Army sergeant major killed made me think about my dad, then stationed in South Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division.
Then there was the first Virginian. The first person I could have known, could have stood in line behind at the grocery.
In September 2004, there was a man from Texas killed in a convoy. I read that news release from an Internet cafe in the Middle East. Days later, I attended the memorial service held for him in Kuwait.
I didn't know him, but I did know dozens of soldiers from Fort Eustis who, days later, would cross the border into Iraq and drive along the same roads that killed the Texas man. I would be in the back seat of one of their Humvees, and before leaving, I would call my editor - asking him to be the one to tell my husband, should anything happen to me.
In late 2004, having made it home safely, there was news of soldiers killed in Mosul, in northern Iraq, when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive in the mess tent. Several guys I went to high school were in or near that tent that day. I thought of them. I prayed for them.
None of those experiences, though, prepared me for the emotions of opening a Defense Department e-mail last month and realizing it wasn't just life similarities that linked me to the list of dead.
Army Sgt. Mason Lewis had died after falling from a roof at a remote military base outside Baghdad. Mason was training Iraq's new soldiers.
Mason was a 26-year-old from Gloucester, and I didn't have to call his family to know that he went to Peasley Middle School, had worn his red hair somewhat long as a teenager and grew up in the Woods Cross Road community of the county.
He was a good guy who got into only the kind of trouble that typical boys get into as they're figuring out which direction to head on the path of life.
I knew Mason. I passed him in the halls of that middle school and saw him in the student parking lot of Gloucester High School - during the days when driving to school and avoiding the bus was a rite of passage.
His father was my husband's soccer coach. His family attended picnics with my in-laws.
Since graduating, I'm not sure that I've ever thought much about Mason. Gloucester might be a small town, but we traveled in different circles.
But I do remember seeing him in Wal-Mart shortly before he left for Iraq. His head might have been shaved, but he looked the same.
As I dialed his mother's phone number a few days after he died - painfully realizing that as the military reporter for the paper, I needed to write a story about Mason's life - I remember thinking that I hope I said, "Hello," as I passed him in the shopping aisle.
I wish I had stopped to talk, to say thank you.
I wish I had wished him well.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun