Service members, families pay the price of independence

| June 30, 2011 | 0 Comments
1st Lt. Dimitri Del Castillo (left), 2nd Bn., 35th Inf. Regt., 3rd BCT, ' TF Bronco,' 25th ID, and his wife, 1st Lt. Kathleen Pulliam, pose for a photo on FOB in late May. Del Castillo was killed in action, June 25, while conducting combat operations in support of OEF. (Courtesy Photo)

1st Lt. Dimitri Del Castillo (left), 2nd Bn., 35th Inf. Regt., 3rd BCT, ' TF Bronco,' 25th ID, and his wife, 1st Lt. Kathleen Pulliam, pose for a photo on FOB in late May. Del Castillo was killed in action, June 25, while conducting combat operations in support of OEF. (Courtesy Photo)

Maj. David W. Eastburn
25th Infantry Division Public Affairs

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — As Americans prepare to celebrate the country’s independence this July Fourth, they should take time to think about the men and women who protect and defend that independence.

Take time to think about the men and women who lay down their lives.

Take time to think about these service members’ loved ones who also sacrifice.

No one understands sacrifice better than the friends and family of 1st Lt. Dimitri Del Castillo.

A 2009 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Del Castillo was killed June 25, when his unit, the Hawaii-based 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team,“Task Force Bronco,” 25th Infantry Division,  was conducting a massive counter-insurgency operation here.

He was 24 years old, a newlywed and just starting his career as an infantryman.

The news reached his bride just minutes after his death, as she was just a few miles away in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

1st Lt. Kathleen Pulliam met Del Castillo during summer training after their or freshman year at West Point. Their feelings only grew stronger, despite the gruelling academic curriculum, mandatory events and rugby practices.

“(Pulliam) liked (Del Castillo) instantly,” said one of Pulliam’s classmates and friends 1st Lt. Theresa Todd, from an outpost in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.

Del Castillo spent the couple’s junior year of school studying abroad in Spain, but the distance, and daily phone calls, only fortified the ever-growing bond the two shared.

“(Pulliam) wanted to be with (Del Castillo),” Todd said. “She wanted to fulfil her five-year commitment to the Army and take care of Dimitri and their kids that she dreamed of having.”

Upon graduation, Del Castillo attended the Army’s Ranger School and was to be assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C., while Pulliam was assigned to Schofield Barracks. A few months later, Del Castillo was reassigned to Hawaii.

“I remember (Pulliam) and (Del Castillo) took a weekend trip to Maui, where (Del Castillo) proposed during their breakfast on the beach,” recalled 1st Lt. Denise Quigley, a classmate and friend of the couple, also serving in Afghanistan.

Proud of her husband and their service to the country, Pulliam was extremely honored to be part of the dual military population where both husband and wife actively serve in the military.

“I work late nights, with the threat of indirect fire looming in the back of my mind,” Pulliam said. “I dream of the day when my husband and I can settle down, and I can start having children, but for now that dream is on hold.

“The Army is about sacrifice, and I know that I am beyond blessed to be able to deploy with my husband,” she said.

Now, she only has the memories of the life they shared together before the war, to help her through these painful days.

“The last time I saw my husband was from a helicopter after a memorial ceremony for a fallen Soldier in his battalion,” Pulliam explained. “As the helicopter lifted off, he waved and waved, until he became so small that I couldn’t see him anymore — yet he kept waving. The vision of him waving will stick with me as long as I live.”

Within hours of being notified of Del Castillo’s passing, Pulliam was on her way back to the U.S., where she will spend several days making arrangements for his memorial.

Because of the ongoing conflict, dealing with the loss of friends and classmates has become an unfortunately growing occurrence.

“I remember, at school, when they’d announce the deaths of the graduates killed in combat,” Todd said. “There was a time in our (sophomore) year where we were observing moments of silence what seemed like every other day.

“Now, they’re doing moments of silence for our class; for our friends; for the people that we love.” Todd continued.

Pulliam and Del Castillo are just two of the thousands of brave Americans whose lives will forever be changed, because they chose to serve a greater cause.

Their story is a one of sacrifice and love, not just for each other, but for the country that affords the liberties we all enjoy.

(Editor’s Note: This is an online exclusive.)

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Category: Deployed Forces, News

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