Specialists Gustavo and Katrina De La Victoria returned home to Lacey on Saturday after spending the first 15 months of their marriage in Iraq.
They’re eager to start a life together in a more relaxed setting — one without constant worry about each other’s safety.
“Privacy as a married couple: That’s the biggest thing we’re looking forward to,” said Gustavo De La Victoria, 24.
The couple are among a wave of about 3,600 soldiers with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division — the Stryker Brigade Combat Team — who are returning to Fort Lewis this month and next after 15 months in combat.
While other families relied on phone conversations, photographs and TV images to learn what life was like for their spouses, the De La Victorias share a common experience.
They had similar jobs: She drove trucks, and he fueled and drove them. And they had the added support of serving with Katrina’s father, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hawkins. The three served in the 269th Brigade Support Battalion, a subordinate unit of one of the two Stryker brigades serving in and around Baghdad.
That meant Joyce Hawkins had to worry about her husband, daughter and son-in-law as they served in Iraq. But it was a comfort knowing they were there for one another, she said.
“It’ll be nice to have everybody home,” she said last week.
Michael Hawkins, 47, returned in August, and Saturday the entire family relaxed and laughed at the Hawkinses’ Lacey home. They were together for the first time since June 2006, when Michael Hawkins deployed.
They talked about what it’s like to adjust to life at home.
Gustavo De La Victoria, who returned from his second tour, said the hardest part is “slowing down.”
“Everything is so calm. You don’t hear helicopters. You don’t hear bombs,” he said.
Driving around town Saturday, he noticed he was on guard.
“You get a sigh of relief. You don’t have to worry about bombs on the road. You don’t have to worry about huge IED holes,” he said.
His wife felt the same way.
“I was always grabbing for my weapon all day today,” said Katrina De La Victoria, 22, who joined the Army after graduating from River Ridge High School in 2003.
It can be startling coming back to so many changes, Gustavo De La Victoria said.
“Everybody’s life just keeps going,” he said.
That is especially challenging for couples with children, Michael and Joyce Hawkins said.
They know from experience; Michael Hawkins was stationed in Korea for a year when Katrina was 10 and their son, Kris, was 8.
“It’s kind of like you’ve been a single parent,” Joyce Hawkins said.
The Hawkinses bickered at first about their different parenting styles, but they joke about it now.
“I believe in the hand; that’s how I was raised. And she’s more, ‘Go sit in the time out chair,’ ” Michael Hawkins said.
The De La Victorias will have a different transition. It’s one that they won’t face together again; Katrina De La Victoria is set to be discharged from the Army in November.
In Iraq, they had to balance their relationship and a high-stress job that required their full attention 24 hours a day, Katrina De La Victoria said.
Now they are eager to find an apartment and get a dog. And they are thankful for the most basic amenities: clean bathrooms, a bed and time to relax.
“I’m just looking forward to spending time with my wife,” Gustavo De La Victoria said. “Holding hands. Just being a typical married couple.”
Diane Huber covers the city of Lacey for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-357-0204 or email@example.com.