Three from family serve in Iraq

LACEY - As the wife, mother and mother-in-law of Fort Lewis soldiers headed to Iraq, Joyce Hawkins said her fair share of goodbyes to family members last summer.

But in an improbable twist, the soldiers didn't have to bid farewell to one another.

Her loved ones all serve in the 296th Brigade Support Battalion, a subordinate unit of one of the two Stryker brigades serving in and around Baghdad.

The unusual circumstances mean she has to try not to worry about not one, not two, but three family members serving in a war zone with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

"At Christmastime, at least I knew they were together. That's a comfort, that they're together," she said. "I think it would be harder if they were in different units."

Her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hawkins, 47, deployed in June for his second tour in Iraq. He orders ammunition for the entire brigade and is a 22-year Army veteran.

The following month, Joyce Hawkins saw off her son-in-law, Gustavo de la Victoria, a week after he married her 21-year-old daughter, Katrina. Katrina then followed her 23-year-old husband to Iraq in September. She joined the Army after graduating from River Ridge High School in 2003.

The couple serve in the same platoon and have similar jobs: She drives trucks, and he fuels and drives them.

The Army doesn't track the number of family members serving at the same time.

"For there to be a young, married couple in the same unit is not out of the ordinary, but having the father of one those soldiers in the same unit, in the same battalion, is a little bit more rare," said Joseph Piek, a Fort Lewis spokesman and retired lieutenant colonel who served as the 3rd Brigade's public-affairs officer during its first deployment to Iraq in fall 2003.

There apparently is a second trio of family members serving with the brigade, according to an Associated Press story published in November.

At the time, twin brothers, Capt. Bill Parsons and Capt. Huber Parsons III, were slated to lead infantry companies, and their younger brother, Lt. Charlie Parsons, was set to join the brigade. All three graduated from the West Point military academy.

Michael Hawkins could have retired before the brigade deployed but stayed in to remain close to his daughter in Iraq.

That way, he wrote in an e-mail, she would have someone to talk to about the situation on the ground.

"I also felt if she sustained some type of injury in action I would be on the ground to give her comfort and help ease the pain my wife would go through with me being here with her," he wrote.

Michael Hawkins said he only sees his daughter and son-in-law occasionally, on short breaks after missions. He added that it's enough contact to ease the stress he would have felt had he remained home.

Like thousands of others, Joyce Hawkins learned in April that family members' tour in Iraq had been extended for three months, to October. She said she'd expected it.

"I always prepare for the worst case so if they come back before then, it's a bonus," she said.

She said that while she's proud of her loved ones and all the service members overseas, she's not ready to part with her 19-year-old son, Kris.

"I threatened him, 'Don't you be joining the military,' " she said. "I can't handle it already with everybody else over there."

Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or chill@theolympian.com.