A cargo plane brings the coffins of fallen soldiers back. Suddenly, sparks fly in the cargo hold. The plane starts to shimmy and shake and plummet from the sky. "We're going down!" the soldiers shout.
Gibbs wakes up in bed with Shannon, his long dead wife. He basks in being near her and tries to think of a reason to stay in bed all day. She stops and looks at him and asks how he's ever going to get what he needs if he doesn't let her go.
Gibbs wakes up alone on the couch to the phone ringing. It's Vance, calling about multiple Marine fatalities.
Gibbs and the team drive to the plane wreckage site. There were five crew and six caskets coming from Kandahar. The Air Force is handling the site. NCIS is there to look into criminal aspects.
They arrive to a field full of charred wreckage. There's one survivor. NCIS begins going over the evidence.
Witnesses saw an explosion. The scene is making Tony contemplative.
The Marines' bodies were heading for final DNA identification before being returned to their loved ones. Duckie anticipates a big process identifying all the body parts.
24 Hours later
Palmer forges on in the morgue.
Tony is feeling fatalistic back in the office. Chaplain Melanie Burke checks in. She was sent to talk to the victim's families. McGee reports the black box is pointing to a flock of birds hitting the plane. Just bad luck, not an attack.
The chaplain goes to see a grieving father, Joseph Flores, who's sure his daughter's body was on the plane. They found only her dog tags after an explosion at a school in Afghanistan. Her name was Gabriela. He's impatient and wants to bury her. The chaplain stays to talk with him.
Gibbs is summoned to see Vance and Secretary of the Navy Jarvis. Jarvis wants the DNA matches to confirm the bodies on the plane. He gives NCIS 24 hours to release the bodies.
Down in the lab, Abby is deep into Caf Pow and even more amped than usual. Abby says Gabriela Flores is listed as a possible KIA, only burnt remains were found near her dog tags and Abby ID'd them as two other men.
Her body wasn't on the plane.
McGee catches Tony making a bucket list. Among the items: Discover the meaning of life, ride a Ferris Wheel naked. He remembers he's done the latter and crosses it off.
Gibbs arrives for the rundown on Gabriela Flores. She got a degree in journalism before going overseas. She worked with Chuck Ellison as a public affairs officer in DC. He's now the Commandant of the Marine Corps. She was part of the female counter-insurgency team.
She was blind-sided in an RPG attack on a girls' school.
Gibbs, Tony and Ziva go talk to Flores' CO Quincy in MTAC. He says they shipped back everything from the scene.
The attack was at night. He saw her on the comm five minutes before the attack. He describes her as a dedicated Marine who was liked by everyone. He vows to keep looking for her.
Down in his basement, Gibbs goes through a box of Gabriela's things. He listens to a recording she made describing girls joining their school building after they lost their families.
He flashes back to boot camp and a woman named Joan Matteson practicing on the obstacle course, trying to beat his course time. He chats her up but she brushes him off for messing up her time.
He's brought back when his phone rings. He's called to see Ellison bright and early.
The next day, Gibbs goes to see the Commandant of the Marine Corps Ellison, who promises to do what it takes to find Flores.
Gibbs joins the chaplain for coffee. Gabriela sent her dad a personal check from Justin Fanniker and wrote "Love you, Dad" in the memo. Joseph Flores signed it over to the chapel.
In the office, we learn Fanniker construction is a big contracting company that has made a lot of money in Afghanistan. McGee finds personal emails between Gabriela and Justin. Three days before the attack, he told her he loved her and would give her dad anything he needed if she would leave with him. She never responded.
There's a record that Justin left Afghanistan on a private plane. His phone puts him in the middle of George Washington National Forrest. Burke offers to go with Gibbs.
At a cabin in the woods, they find Justin outside with a shotgun. He says Gabriela is dead. He saw the wreckage at the school.
He left because he was grieving.
McGee shows Gibbs satellite footage from the attack on the school, but it's not clear. Gibbs tells McGee to get better resolution by invoking the name of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Ziva reports Gabriela's CO in Afghanistan still has found nothing.
Gibbs suggests everyone go home for the night. But first, he visits the bodies in the morgue. Duckie suggests he ask the living for answers.
Gibbs calls Burke for names of other women who did what Gabriela did. He visits Emily, who tells him about the death threats teachers got for teaching girls and how one student had acid thrown in her face. She says the insurgents saw the girls school as a threat.
Back in the lab, Gibbs plays Gabriela's recording for Abby. Ziva listens to the background voices and translates. The men are discussing the destruction of the school. They were the same men helping build it.
Gibbs reports their findings to her CO Quincy, who isn't surprised. Locals play both sides. They haven't been able to find the builders since the attack. He says he'll keep looking.
Gibbs visits the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
He remembers boot camp again. Joan visits him working on a bird house for his dad. She says her father is difficult, but there's no point holding it against him.
He snaps back and sees Joseph Flores at the tomb. Gibbs tells him her body wasn't on the plane and hasn't been found. He says they're putting everything they have into finding her. Joseph gives Gibbs a photo of Gabriela, a teacher and one of the students.
Gibbs takes the photo to Burke, then Abby. There's a tattoo under the woman's wedding ring. Abby finds two would be suicide bombers in the system with the same tattoo, both linked to the "Army of Believers" insurgent group. The design symbolizes entrance into martyrdom.
McGee reports one of their tactics is using women for attacks. Gibbs makes McGee widen the satellite footage and they find one adult figure leading two children away from the attack site and intercepted by a truck.
They think they've found Flores.
Gibbs reports to the Commandant Ellison and Jarvis. They're sending people to look for her. They promise the rescue team won't leave until they find her.