For those waiting on the ground at Amberley RAAF base, the first indication that three Australian heroes had returned home was the roar of the aircraft as it flew overheard.
It circled the base once as about 200 soldiers stood and watched, before landing at the far end of the base.
For half an hour, the soldiers stood in formation, hands behind their back, feet apart, heads slightly bowed awaiting the arrival of the three caskets.
It was a long final journey home for Lance Corporal Stjepan 'Rick' Milosevic, Sapper James Martin and Private Robert Poate.
Along with fellow fallen comrades Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald and Private Nathanael Galagher, the three Brisbane-based soldiers left Tarin Kot and flew to Dubai, before stopping for refueling en route to Australia.
There the soldiers were separated; the two commandos from the Special Operations Taskforce taken to Richmond, the three 3 RAR Task force soldiers on to Amberley just outside Brisbane.
In what has been called one of Australia's darkest days, the five were killed in what was the deadliest day for the nation's troops since Vietnam.
Lance Corporal Milosevic, Sapper Martin and Private Poate were killed by a rogue Afghan soldier within a patrol base on the evening of August 29.
Lance Corporal McDonald and Private Galagher were killed just a few hours later in an ISAF helicopter crash.
At RAAF Base Richmond in Sydney, Lance Corporal McDonald and Private Galagher were received by their families and army personnel, including Chief of the Defence Force General David Hurley.
An honour guard and bearer party were formed by soldiers from the two men's unit, 2nd Commando Regiment.
Last night, Private Galagher's family remembered him as a loving man who was a ''country boy at heart''.
''Nate loved the Army, but it was only one part of what made the man,'' a statement said.
Private Galagher's partner Jessie Feeney - who is pregnant with their child - said there was ''no trait of Nate's that I wouldn't want his son to inherit.''
Lance Corporal McDonald's fiancee Rachael Sprigg-McKinnie remembered ''Merv'' as the ''warmest guy you'd ever meet.''
''You could see it in his eyes, they had a special sparkle.''
Ms Sprigg-McKinnie described Lance Corporal McDonald as ''a real Aussie bloke with a passion for his country.''
Ms Sprigg-McKinnie said her fiance loved being a digger. ''Even after several tours, he felt a real sense of duty to return to Afghanistan.''
The two were due to get married in Bendigo next Easter and were hoping to start a family soon after.
At Amberley soldiers and their superiors stood in solidarity when the whirr of electronics signalled the lowering of the ramp.
Moments later, a lone drummer began to slowly mark each step with a beat. A piper followed. Then, carried by fellow soldiers and held high, a chaplain walking alongside, each of the three diggers were brought back onto Australian soil.
They were carried in alphabetical order; Sapper Martin first, followed by Lance Corporal Milosevic, then Private Poate.
As their comrades saluted in unison, the caskets were carried back towards the base, the piper marking their journey while the sound of army boots on the tarmac beat in time to the lone drummer.
The diggers’ families, followed behind, their faces united in grief.
They had requested privacy as they welcomed their men home.
The three men were carried from the aircraft to a small room where they were returned into the care of their loved ones.
Sapper Martin, 21, was on his first operational deployment.
He is survived by his mother, Suzanne Thomas, his younger brother Angus and sister Holly and his grandparents, Lucille and Ralph Thomas.
Described as an intellectual soldier, he was also musically talented and could often be heard playing his bass guitar for his mates in his downtime.
His family described him as always being able to ‘‘choose something perfect’’ and the family book shelf is lined with gift's from James - his sister Holly's iPod is filled with songs chosen by her brother.
‘‘James was a great communicator and he used every opportunity to transfer new skills and facts on to his family and friends,’’ his family wrote in a statement.
‘‘He never shied away from intellectual discussion and when opinions were in conflict, he ended up being right most of the time. But he made you like him in the process.
‘‘James was a wonderful person and he will be sorely missed by his family and anyone who knew him.’’
In his first letter to his family while away from home training, he wrote of section mates who were pulling out, overcome with homesickness.
James wrote: "I would not give up this opportunity for anything" ... "I will be an Australian soldier".
Lance Corporal Milosevic was known as Rick by his family and friends.
The 40-year-old was on his second operational deployment.
He has left behind his partner Kelly and two young daughters, eight-year-old Sarah and six-year-old Kate, as well as his mother, brothers and sisters.
Described as a devoted family man, Lance Corporal Milosevic was admired for his leadership and professional abilities, as well as his skill on the rugby field.
In a statement, his family described him as a ‘‘courageous, committed, immensely proud soldier" whose desire to serve his country saw him enlist at age 36.
‘‘Rick was a typical Australian bloke, friendly, with a dry sense of humour and a natural charm. He had a comfortable ease. He would show respect to everyone he met.
"We are all proud of what Rick was able to achieve, not only as a soldier, but as a loving partner, devoted father, son and brother.
"Our family is now united by grief as we try to come to terms with the loss of Rick."
At 24 years old, Private Poate had already taken quite a bit of ribbing over his red locks. He was known for "vehemently defending them as being strawberry blonde".
He is survived by his parents, Hugh and Janny, and his sister Nicola.
Born in Canberra, Private Poate enlisted in the Australian Army in 2009. He was described by Defence personnel as having "outstanding leadership potential" and his ‘‘Brothers by Choice’’ in 6RAR remember a larrikin and an incredibly professional soldier.
"Private Poate had a reputation for creating mischief without getting caught and was proud of his family, his military service, his Canberran origins and his red hair," according to a statement issued by Defence.
with Judith Ireland