Robert worried about placing the plaque on Muslim soil. He didn't want to offend anyone. But, he thought, it was small enough and it would be OK if he put it off the side of the road.
Robert took his seat and looked out the window. The moon wasn't as bright as the night Mike died, but Robert saw its glow. As the engines roared and the jet began its sprint down the runway, Robert began to cry.
"I'm coming, Mike," he whispered.
Robert flew to Dubai and Amman and then to Baghdad. TigerSwan put him up at the firm's villa.
A few days later, he put on a helmet and a bulletproof vest and climbed clumsily into an armored Toyota Land Cruiser. Robert pauses his story to tell me that Mike -- always one for humor -- might have laughed at the sight of his dad's awkwardness.
I feel silly after I tell Robert that Mike would have been proud that his aging father had the fortitude to travel all that way. Of course, he knows.
Robert made sure his flak jacket vest bore his son's nametag. The Army only uses last names. "Stokely," it said.
One of Mike's friends had ripped it off his uniform when he died and held onto it for the rest of his yearlong tour. He'd given it to Robert when the grieving father met his son's unit at Fort Stewart.
That was the only piece of Mike's military uniform Robert had ever worn. Sometimes, he wore Mike's old polo shirts. But he had always told me he didn't deserve to wear anything that represented Mike's service.
As TigerSwan's convoy of five vehicles made its way south on the main highway from Baghdad, Robert sat calmly in the back seat of the Land Cruiser, a pocket-sized, camouflage-covered Bible in his hands. Inside, he shuddered.
TigerSwan personnel were on high alert after reports of violence that morning during a Shiite pilgrimage. They had intelligence that a suicide bomber was in the area.
Robert's convoy started running into Iraqi checkpoints. Soon, they had been diverted off their route. Robert had studied the maps and grid coordinates so many times that he knew exactly where they were: a mile and half away from the potato factory.
"Are we at about the 30-grid mark? We should be six, seven, eight miles to the east of Yusufiya," Robert said.
The security team marveled at Robert's knowledge of every road, every alley. He was determined to help get them to Yusufiya.
But after being turned away several times, TigerSwan's Reese felt it was too dangerous to go in. They would have to give up. They would have to return to Baghdad.
Robert felt sick to his stomach. He was dry-heaving, so heartbroken that tears began flowing down his face.
He eyed the tree line and thought for a moment that he would gently open the car door and make a mad dash.
But he didn't. He had promised his family there would be no more tragedy.
He shakes his head as he finishes his story. "I was so close."
I ask Robert how he lives with the thought that he missed the chance to see the place that haunted him. Is it worse that he tried and didn't make it?
He tells me he might have regrets except for what happened next in his journey to Iraq.
He met an Iraqi man who'd lost his son and nephew in a bombing. A trip across Baghdad was fraught with danger for him and his family.
That Iraqi father, Robert says, wants the same things in life that he does. But the Iraqi man's days are far more daunting.