Latoya French and her sister, Laquitta French Basley, watched as the Georgia National Guard recruiter’s car pulled into the driveway of their parents’ Milledgeville home.
They watched two men get out and saw their demeanor. They knew something was wrong.
“I had a feeling,” Latoya French said. “My heart felt empty.”
They got the bad news: Their brother, Staff Sgt. Alex French IV, was killed by an improvised-explosive device Wednesday morning in Khowst, Afghanistan, according to the National Guard.
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French, a 31-year-old who was also a Bibb County sheriff’s deputy, was deployed with the 48th Brigade.
The American flag flew at half-staff Thursday in front of the sheriff’s office where French worked at the jail prior to leaving for duty in May.
Sheriff Jerry Modena said the flag will remain lowered until after French’s funeral. Arrangements were incomplete late Thursday.
Basley said her brother died doing what he did best.
“He was defending his country,” she said.
Basley said she’d exchanged frequent instant messages with her brother since his deployment. He asked questions about life at home in Georgia but didn’t want to talk about himself, she said.
Latoya French said she last talked with Alex about a week ago.
He told her he had a mission going on, but he didn’t like to worry his mother or sisters. Sometimes, though, he couldn’t hide the danger he faced, she said.
“It was in his voice,” she said.
Alex French was scheduled to return home in May 2010 to his wife, Shanoca, and three young children.
The military has released few details regarding French’s death. He was a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry.
Latoya French said her father and grandfather left Thursday to identify French’s body in Delaware. The family expects his body to be returned Saturday to Georgia.
Alex French’s sisters said they were a “tightknit” family growing up and continued to be close in adulthood.
Latoya French said she’ll always remember her brother telling her “not to sweat the small stuff” and to honor her word.
Even though Basley said she was older than her brother, Alex has always been protective of her and her sister.
“He was a rock,” she said.
Both women said they’ll remember their brother’s smile and his way of cracking a joke to lighten a dark moment.
Latoya French said Alex, who graduated from Baldwin High School in 1996 and enlisted in the Navy, was loved by everyone who knew him.
Latoya French said he had “a thing for Popeye” since he was a child and wanted to be a sailor.
He was honorably discharged in 2000 and took a job at Scott State Prison in Hardwick. In 2003, he started work at the Bibb sheriff’s office, according to county records.
Modena described French, a sergeant assigned to the booking division, as intelligent and as someone rising through the ranks.
“He had a good career ahead of him,” Modena said. “To have it terminated so early, it’s a waste.”
He said French was one of 10 deputies currently deployed to the Middle East.
Latoya French said her brother joined the National Guard to continue to serve his country and help people.
“It was in him to do that,” she said. “When you’d see him, you’d think he belonged in uniform.”
He deployed with the 48th Brigade to Iraq from 2005 to 2006.
Gov. Sonny Perdue issued a statement Thursday after learning of French’s death.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the family of Staff Sgt. Alex French. Sgt. French laid down his life to defend our country,” Perdue said in the statement. “He will be remembered as a hero not only by his wife, Shanoca, and children, Shaniya, Alex and Madison, but by the entire state of Georgia.”
Telegraph staff writer Liz Fabian contributed to this report.