Grieving the loss of a fiance

By Timothy J. Gibbons
Published by Florida Times-Union on October 8, 2008.

The wedding, Tavarus Setzler had said, should be this Thanksgiving.

Setzler and his fiancee, Brittnie Jones, first planned on tying the knot next year, but sometime during the long hot days in Iraq, the soldier decided to move the date up.

He'd get about two weeks of leave in November and planned on swinging by the courthouse to get the paperwork taken care of.

But Setzler won't be coming home for Thanksgiving.

Instead, his body will be brought back to Jacksonville on Friday.

The 23-year-old Army private first class died last week, the Department of Defense said, when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb in Iraq.

His funeral will be held at noon Saturday at Greater Hope First Born Church.

Setzler had been in the Army for less than a year and had been in Iraq for about six months.

He proposed after returning from boot camp in Texas.

"He was wearing a big old ring, and I said 'Oh, that's what happens now - you go to Texas and come back with a ring?'" Jones remembered saying. "'Where's my ring?'"

Setzler gave it to her later that day, not long before heading off to Iraq.

The decision of the Robert E. Lee High School graduate to enlist harkened back to what had been his favorite thing about high school: ROTC.

"He was an outstanding student, " said Navy Lt. Dean Williams, senior naval science instructor at the school. "For ROTC, he was the kind of student you want. He was motivated and dedicated and very well disciplined."

Nevertheless, his decision to join the Army came as a surprise to his family and friends.

"He didn't even let us know, " said his brother Shawn Baker, 24. "He didn't want anyone to discourage him."

The military was going to give him a step up in life, said his mother, Mary Setzler. Afterward, maybe college, or enlisting in the Navy.

Setzler's fiancee, who joined the Navy about a month after Setzler enlisted, had talked to him about signing up for that branch of the service, but something about the Army grabbed Setzler.

The money helped.

"The bonus got him, " said his brother Jimmy Baker, 31, the only other of Setzler's eight siblings who's ever enlisted. "The situation out here in the world, there's not much money. The money is right in the military."

Baker had handled supplies during his service days, and he worried about his brother's more dangerous job. "He was a combat engineer, " he said. "It's telling you right there: You're going into combat."

But Setzler wasn't worried.

"He was excited about what he was doing, " Baker said. "He had a military mind-set."

The last time Baker heard from his brother was Sept. 29, three days before his death. It was the day before Baker's birthday.

"It was an e-mail and it said he was coming home soon, " Baker said. "It said, 'Happy birthday, old man. I'll see you in November.'"


This is a showcase of the work done by Timothy J. Gibbons during a journalism career now stretching back more than a decade.

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