A C-130 transport plane is returning to the United States with a sad cargo of six flag-drapped military coffins. In the cargo area, the coffins are watched over by three soldiers. One of the soldiers spots a corner of a flag that has worked its way loose ï¿½ he rises, and carefully tucks the flag in properly, respectfully making it neat. Suddenly, the plane experiences a major malfunction ï¿½ engines explode, and the plane begins to dive. "We're going down!" shouts one of the soldiers. (CREDITS)
Gibbs wakes up in bed with the sun in his eyes and a smile on his face. He turns to the red-haired woman in bed with him and embraces her, and they murmur sleepily about their plans for the day ï¿½ mundane, everyday tasks. She teases him gently about starting a new project in the basement. More kisses and cuddles, and when she begins to get out of bed, he draws her to him, telling her that he's changed his mind ï¿½ he wants to stay in bed with her all day. Suddenly serious, she draws away, and looking down at him pityingly, she asks, "How are you ever going to get what you need if you can't let me go?" He gazes at her, troubled, and reaches out to touch her face as the phone begins to ring faintly in the background. Suddenly, the dream of Shannon ends ï¿½ cold reality is a bleak, early morning light and Gibbs waking abruptly to the insistent ring of his cell phone on the living room sofa where he fell asleep the night before. Groggy and unwilling to let go of the dream, he answers the phone, and Vance's voice is a cold wake-up call: "Gibbs ï¿½ multiple Marine fatalities. Get in here."
As the team drives to the crash site, McGee fills them in on the details: five crewmen, six transport cases on their way to Dover. Ziva reminds them that this is her first case like this, and asks for some guidance. Tony tells her the Air Force is handling the site, but NCIS will step in with an investigation if there is any sign of criminal activity. Tony is thoughtful: "They were carrying six dead Marines home ï¿½ why blow up a flying hearse?" Gibbs is matter-of-fact: "Sending a message." Arriving at the site, the team is taken aback by the scope of the wreckage, and the scattered remains of the transport cases. "Where do we start?" wonders Tony. Gibbs steps to a small corner of a transport case entangled with a carefully tucked flag fragment. "Right here," he sighs, gently touching the flag.
At a staging area, the team has gathered the broken transports. Palmer marvels at the amount of ice the bodies were packed in, and Ducky reminds him that the Marines take great pride in carefully handling fallen soldiers. "So do we, Duck," comments Gibbs. Ducky is aghast at the job before them ï¿½ identifying numerous fragments by DNA.
Back at the lab, Palmer is exhausted after testing numerous fragments. "We'll rest when we're dead," proclaims Ducky, and tells Palmer the store of John Paul Jones, who was buried in Paris in 1792. Theodore Roosevelt took the trouble to have his body exhumed and returned to the United States over 100 years later: "We take great solace in knowing where our heroes are buried. For every moment that we rest, the families of these fallen Marines don't."
Tony is reflecting that, as often as they ride on transports, it could have easily been them on that transport. McGee dismisses the morbid thought, but Tony can't let it go. Startled, he looks up and a Navy chaplain is standing in front of his desk ï¿½ petite, red-haired, and crisp in her uniform. "You look troubled," she comments, and taken aback, asks her if she was sent "by the Man upstairs?" pointing upwards for emphasis. "Vance?" asks McGee, puzzled. She laughs ï¿½ she's actually there to see Gibbs. Her name is Burke, and she's just been assigned to the Naval Yard, and wants to reach out the accident victim's families. Gibbs offers a greeting, and adds that he's sorry it has to be under these circumstances. Cheekily, she replies, "Yeah, I get that a lot." Gibbs blinks. McGee reports that the initial analysis of the accident was that it was caused by wayward flock of geese damaging the engines. "Another Sully Sullenberger situation," comments Tony. McGee goes on to add that they have ID's on almost all of the crew and the remains. "Almost?" inquires Gibbs, as Ziva hurries in to tell Gibbs that the father of one of the deceased is in the conference room. Burke offers to accompany Gibbs to the meeting.
The father in the conference room was grief-stricken ï¿½ his daughter, First Lt. Gabriella Flores, was a victim of a strike on a school in Afghanistan, and apparently the strike was so severe that there were few remains. He is convinced that her remains were on that transport, and is demanding the return of her remains so that he can bury her. "They found her dog tags!" he exclaims, and is impatient with their paperwork and necessary procedures. He shows them a picture of a lovely dark-haired girl who put herself through college and became a Marine officer through determination and hard work. Swallowing, Gibbs looks at the picture and tells the man, "A daughter is a precious thing." Burke dismisses Gibbs so that she can sit with Mr. Flores and talk to him.
In Vance's office, SecNav wants to confirm the ID's of the people on the transport so that they can wrap up the incident and get it off the news. Gibbs and Vance explain that the DNA matches have to be completed before they can release the investigation. SecNav tells him to use other DNA teams if necessary: "Tell them SecNav wants closure." "We all want closure, sir" Gibbs reminds him. SecNav demands the release of the bodies within 24 hours, and Vance assures him that it will be done.
In the lab, Abby is running fast-forward on caffeine, her desk littered with several large Caf-Pows. Abby shows Gibbs that Flores' was listed only as a possible KIA by her dogtags, with her remains awaiting final DNA identification. Flores was one of three Marines involved in the strike ï¿½ the other two have been positively identified, by Flores has not. After analyzing the remains, Abby concludes that there were the remains of only two Marines in three cases ï¿½ the other two victims. Flores' remains are nowhere to be found ï¿½ where is Flores?
The team is exhausted, but Tony, suddenly aware of his own mortality, is working on a "bucket list." He prints it, and before he can get it off the printer, Ziva grabs it and avidly begins to read it aloud: "Ride a Ferris wheel naked?" she inquires. Tony frowns: "Cross that one off, I've already done that." Gibbs arrive, and they review Flores' file: She was a journalism major and was a public affairs officer formerly attached to the Marine Barracks in D.C., but had volunteered for a female engagement team in counter insurgency for posting in Afghanistan. She was reported killed in an attack on a school she was helping rebuild in Afghanistan by insurgent RPGs ï¿½ Ziva offers that since education for girls is not favored in Afghanistan, the school would have been a target for a very brutal attack. Gibbs requests satellite footage of the attack, and he and Ziva go to MTAC to talk to Flores' commanding officer, who assures Gibbs that the mortuary team collected everything possible to ship back. He said he talked to her on the comm as they were under fire, ordered her back, but lost contact ï¿½ she never made it back. "I used to wish I had 20 of her," he says, "now I wish I still had one." He tells Gibbs that until he's told that Flores is officially dead, he considers himself to be looking for a live Marine. "Semper fi," Gibbs offers in closing.
In his basement, Gibbs opens up a box of Flores' personal effects. He turns on a small recorder and listens to Flores' voice detailing the arrival of some local girls at the school as he sorts through the box. He comes across a casual picture of Flores in fatigues, which triggers a memory of a similar woman he met when he was a new Marine: a feisty young woman named Robinson, who impressed a young Jethro with her determination to excel in the physical training by practicing during liberty. His flashback is interrupted by a phone call: The Commandant of the Marines wants to see him at 7 am the next morning.
As Gibbs arrives at the Commandant's home, he is greeted familiarly by the Commandant. After some small talk, he tells Gibbs that SecNav has called him with some concerns, and assures Gibbs that he will do whatever is necessary to find out what happened to Flores.
As Gibbs returns to the Naval Yard, he is met by Burke on the sidewalk, who offers him a large cup of coffee. Quickly checking it, he notes that it's black ï¿½ just the way he likes it ï¿½ and asks how she knew how he took his coffee. She tells him that her father said you could always tell a Marine by his coffee, and when Gibbs asks what his coffee says about him, she replies, "Bold. Complex. Strong enough to stop a freight train." She tells him that she has visited Mr. Flores, and shows him a check that Mr. Flores received from someone named Justin Fanniker, a friend of Gabriella's, in the amount of $2,000, with a memo note: "Love you, Dad." Gabriella had sent it to her father a week before the attack, but he didn't feel right cashing it, so he gave it to Burke for the chapel as a memorial, telling her that Justin would understand.
Gibbs investigates Fanniker, who turns out to be an American contractor working in Afghanistan. In going through Flores' emails, they find a romantic one from Fanniker to Flores, with the sentiment that "I dreamt I was back home, showing you the sky as I remembered it." Tony scoffs, "Pretty syrupy ï¿½ she fell for that?" Burke turns to Tony and tells him, "Sincerity works sometimes, Agent DiNozzo ï¿½ you should try it." A later email professes his love and concern for her safety and offers to give her father whatever he needs if she will leave with him, but there is no response. Gibbs is suddenly very interested in talking to Fanniker, whose cell phone is active in a remote part of the George Washington National Forest. Burke offers to accompany him: "I can be helpful, Gibbs, I can try to talk to him when mumbled words from a grey-haired grizzly bear seem much less persuasive." The team smothers grins, but Gibbs just smiles and nods, inviting her along. As they leave, she observes that it will give them time to chit-chat, "about why I embraced the clergy and became a chaplain." "I kinda like the quiet," retorts Gibbs.
As they arrive at their destination, Burke gets out of the car, still chattering, "ï¿½after two tours of Afghanistan, I became convinced that I was doing what God had intended for me ï¿½ helping others find inner peace." "Peace sounds good . . . a little quiet, too, maybe . . ." Gibbs answers meaningfully. "Do I talk too much?" she inquires. "I didn't say I minded, Padre," he says mildly. He glances inside an empty cabin, and they stroll around the corner, finding Justin Fanniker bringing in a load of wood. Startled, Justin drops the wood and whips up his rifle as Gibbs shows his badge. Burke asks him if Gabriella is inside the cabin, and Justin is incredulous: "Gabriella's dead ï¿½ don't you know that?" he asks Gibbs. He tells them that he went to Afghanistan, saw what was left of the school, and his frustration with the lack of information. He tells Gibbs that Flores refused to leave with him. Burke tells him that when he leaves three open projects in Afghanistan and runs to a remote area such as the cabin, he looks like he's hiding something. Justin wipes the tears from his face with his sleeve. "Just trying to hold it together," he says simply, "I met Gabriella and my whole life changed. I loved her ï¿½ and now she's gone." Gibbs gazes at him, understanding.
As Gibbs returns to the office, he finds McGee studying the satellite footage from the attack. They see heat signals of people, and the larger flowering of the attack. Gibbs isn't happy with the quality of the film, and tells McGee to tell them that the Commandant of the Marine Corps wants it. Tony and Ziva have talked to Flores' commander again ï¿½ still no luck, no trace of her anywhere. Gibbs tells the team to go home and get some sleep, but Ziva notes that he is settling at his desk: "What about you? If you stay, we stay!" Tony laughs and tells her not to get carried away and earns a glare and headslap from Ziva, to Tony's stunned surprise. "Special Agent David ï¿½ you did NOT just do that!" "I did!" she says proudly, "and I will do it again!" Gibbs waves them off and tells them that they need some time off and distance to think about the problem. McGee offers Gibbs a ride home if he's tired, but Gibbs turns him down and heads downstairs for "one more thing."
In Autopsy, Gibbs wanders among the shrouded remains of the soldiers killed in the crash. Ducky is surprised to see Jethro, and tells him ruefully that the remains will not have the answers Gibbs is looking for. Gibbs suddenly has an idea ï¿½ he calls Burke and asks if she knows anyone who has worked with these kinds of schools. As he leaves and gives Ducky a fist-bump "thank you."
Burke introduces him to Emily, a teacher who joined the Marines to help teach children in Afghanistan, and then returned to teaching. She warns Gibbs that the insurgents were not disorganized ï¿½ when they had a clear target, they were very focused, and the girls school offered a clear target ï¿½ one of her students, carrying one of the school's workbook, had acid thrown in her face.
Gibbs and the team gather in Abby's lab to replay the recording Gibbs found in her personal effects. After analyzing the tape and isolating background noises, they can pick out one clear voice. Ziva recognizes it as Pashtu (one of the many languages she knows), and translates: "He said, 'next time they'll think twice about building a school!'" she says, listening intently. "'The plan has no weakness.' They're discussing the destruction of the school," she finishes. Abby is confused: "So, it was the people she was working with?" Ziva concurs: "They were hiding in plain sight," she agrees somberly, and the team realizes that Flores had no idea who she was dealing with.
In MTAC, Gibbs tells Flores' commander that the insurgents were actually in the school, but the commander is unsurprised, reminding Gibbs that in a war zone, citizens often have to play both sides of the fence to survive. He tells Gibbs that there were two teachers, one male, one female, and a group of laborers who made a habit of wandering in and out, but after the attack, he can't find any information on them from the locals, who are quiet. The commander is frustrated: "If neither you or Dover can DNA Flores' remains, then , pardon my French, but where in the hell is she?" Gibbs tells him to keep looking, and the commander wonders what Gibbs is going to tell her next of kin.
At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the ceremonial guard paces back and forth alone in the early morning. Gibbs, walking along a sidewalk, glances up to see a helicopter flying over, and begins to remember his early Marine days again . . .
Robinson approaches a young Jethro, who is carefully sanding a small hand-made birdhouse he has just finished for his father. She asks him about it, and he tells her that it's for his dad, and that the work "makes me feel like his head's on straight." Robinson teases him about beating his times on the obstacle course, but Jethro tells her that she hasn't beat them. "Ah, you've been checking!" Robinson smirks, to Jethro's discomfort. After a pause, she offers that her father can be difficult, too. Jethro denies that he said anything about his own father, but she tells him gently, "Dads can't help it ï¿½ you can't hold it against them." She then smiles and tells him good luck keeping his head on straight, and he responds in the same vein, telling her good luck in beating his times as she saunters off.
As the helicopter flies off, Gibbs looks around the Tomb area, and sees Mr. Flores despondently watching the changing of the honor guard. Mr. Flores tells Gibbs that he has taken to spending time there trying to get used to the idea ï¿½ "I was right, wasn't I? Her body was on that plane?" he says, bracing himself for the word. "Nope," says Gibbs. Mr. Flores is startled, and a cautious hope lights his eyes. "What do you mean? Where is she?" he demands. Gibbs tells him that even though her dog tags were on the scene, she wasn't. "We don't have a body," Gibbs finishes. "Are you telling me she's alive?" Mr. Flores says incredulously, but Gibbs warns him they are still looking for answers. Flores implores him to do everything possible, and Gibbs assures him that they already are. Reaching in his jacket, Mr. Flores pulls out some photographs, and hands Gibbs one of Gabriella with a student and a teacher in a burka, begging Gibbs to find her. Gibbs stares at the picture intently . . . he sees something.
At the Naval Yard, Gibbs grabs a protesting Burke out of the line at the coffee vendor, and shows her the picture. "What do you see?" he asks her urgently, indicating an intricate tattoo on the ring finger of the teacher. Abby runs a search on the significance of the tattoo, and discovers that it is a symbol of an insurgent group called "Army of Believers", and the tattoo is a symbol of entrance into martyrdom. McGee and Tony gather information on the group, which specializes in using women to advance attacks undetected. Their mission is to "get rid of anything apple pie or NATO," and their headquarters are said to be in remote areas of the Shinai hills, just south of the attack point. Gibbs asks McGee to run the satellite video again, but at a wider angle, to see the surrounding area. McGee shows a wider shot, but Gibbs demands an even wider range ï¿½ "2 kilometers, McGee ï¿½ go!" McGee obediently pulls out the range to show a wide area around the camp ï¿½ and suddenly, they see it: a large figure and two small figures fleeing south of the attack, possibly Flores and two children. "She didn't die in the attack!" exclaims McGee, but they watch as a car pulls up in front of the three figures. Figurs jump out of the car and snatch the two small figures, and the shadow they think is Flores suddenly kneels in the ground, with her hands behind her head. "No, she got caught," says Gibbs.
Gibbs is reviewing the footage with Vance, the Commandant and SecNav ï¿½ the truck is identified as an older Russian model, and the two smaller figures were probably girls who were boarders at the school. Vance observes that tracking in the Shinai hills would be difficult, but Gibbs turns to the Commandant: "You said something about moving mountains, sir?" The Commandant tells him that he has already arrange for a plane to leave at 5 AM, and his people have already gotten started: "Don't come back without her," he tells Gibbs.