Toccara Green lingered until after midnight that last Sunday in July, eating ribs and ice cream cake and mingling cheerfully with nearly 90 friends and relatives gathered at a backyard barbecue in her honor.
She posed for pictures with new baby cousins and older relatives she had not seen for years. She prayed with members of her church. The next Sunday, her two-week leave over, the 23-year-old Rosedale woman and Army specialist returned to Iraq for the final four months of her second tour of duty.
Yesterday, members of her family reconvened to mourn her death.
Green is the first military woman from Maryland, and the 26th service member from the state, to die in Iraq since U.S. forces invaded the country more than two years ago, according to announcements from the Pentagon.
As friends and family gathered, Green's parents received a phone call from a fellow soldier and friend of their daughter who was there when she died. Green was killed Sunday when explosives detonated near her supply convoy in Al Asad, in western Iraq.
Green, a motor and transport operator, was driving a Humvee behind Spc. Nicole Coleman, the soldier who called the Green family home yesterday. Between them were several trucks carrying supplies, Coleman said over a crackling connection. When the convoy stopped to refuel and switch drivers, they climbed out of the Humvees.
"The next thing you know, explosives went off," Coleman recalled in a soft and trembling voice. "I was getting ready to get back in when I saw the first one go off."
Coleman said she dropped to the ground, then jumped back into the Humvee when she heard the second explosion. Inside, she heard there were casualties but didn't know who.
The next time she left her vehicle, she said, she saw her friend lying in a pool of blood. She recognized her, Coleman said, by the scarf on her head. Someone was performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Green, Coleman said, but she was dead before the medevac unit arrived.
"I just started screaming," she said. "I never lost a best friend before."
The two met during basic training in 2003, Coleman said, and referred to themselves as "Batman and Robin" or "Pinky and the Brain."
Green had long wanted to join the Army, her family said, and spent four years in ROTC while attending Forest Park High School in Baltimore.
Her father, with whom she was close, wasn't comfortable with his only daughter joining the military, especially because her older brother had joined the Marines, the brother, Garry Green Jr., said yesterday.
So, after she graduated from high school in 2000, Green attended Norfolk State University in Virginia, where she studied telecommunications and broadcasting.
Her desire to join the Army never waned, and in January 2003, she enlisted, her brother said.
"She loved her country," he said. "She wanted to do something to help, not just sit around and talk about it."
When Green was 13, her father had begun to teach her about cars, and she loved to work on them, her brother said. So it was no surprise when she told her family that her Army job would be as a motor and transport operator.
She was assigned to the Army's 57th Transportation Company, 584th Corps Support Battalion, based at Fort Drum, N.Y.
She was sent to Iraq the first time in May 2003, her brother said, and stayed for about nine months. She returned to Iraq in February.
Garry Green Jr. said his sister was eager to finish her second tour and receive a new assignment. She was talking about re-enlisting during her last visit home.
"She wasn't exactly mad about going to Iraq," he said. "She's not the type to cry that 'I gotta do this' or 'I gotta do that.' She just wanted to get it done."
He described his sister as enthusiastic and outgoing, a natural leader who could motivate others easily.
Coleman described Green as a silly, witty and excitable confidante.
At her family's church, Victory Ministries International, Green worked with the children in the congregation and read announcements, said Lenora Howze, a family friend and associate pastor.
During her last visit home, Green went to a movie with her aunt, as she always did, and went roller skating, a favorite activity.
Her father, Garry Green Sr., watched videos yesterday of Green participating in ROTC drill competitions in high school. Her mother, Yvonne Green, said she couldn't bear to hear her daughter's voice and instead sought comfort in the photos taken on that overcast Sunday in July.
Her brother, too, reflected on the recent gathering.
"It was a perfect day," he said. The Greens said they are planning a local service in addition to a military funeral in Arlington, Va.