Soldier's death hits home for military family

CONYERS — News of a fallen soldier in Afghanistan this week struck close to home for the Pulliam family of Rockdale County.

U.S. Army 1st. Lt. Kathleen "Katie" Pulliam, a graduate of Salem High School and of the West Point Military Academy, lost her husband, 1st Lt. Dimitri del Castillo on Saturday from wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire in the Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

Pulliam and del Castillo were classmates at West Point and graduated together in 2009. They fell in love and announced their engagement in October. Their plans were to get married in July 2012 after their deployment was complete.

Katie's father, Nate Pulliam, said the couple got married in a civil ceremony in December on the advice of their commanders before both were sent to Afghanistan. They had planned on having a church wedding in 2012.

Nate said Katie was coping as well as can be expected. He and his wife, Patty, were in England when Katie called Saturday from Afghanistan. The Pulliams arrived back in Conyers on Monday night.

"Katie called Patty, and she was extremely distraught," said Nate, who himself graduated from West Point in 1978. "I'm proud of both of them. Dimitri was a real hero. They came under very heavy fire and he was on the radio trying to get assistance when he was shot and kept talking to try to get support for his men until he died."

Del Castillo's remains arrived at Dover Air Force Base on Monday. Nate said a memorial service is planned for sometime after the Fourth of July weekend in Tampa, Fla., where del Castillo's family is from, and burial will be later at West Point.

Both Pulliam and del Castillo were assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks in Hawaii after graduation. They went to Afghanistan with the 25th Infantry together but in separate battalions.

Katie served as a personnel and administrative staff officer in the 325th Brigade Support Battalion that is deployed to the Forward Operation Base Fenty, near Jalabad, Nangahar Province, Afghanistan.

Del Castillo was a rifle platoon leader with 1st Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment. At the time of his death, del Castillo was deployed to Forward Operation Base Joyce, near Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

Nate said Katie and del Castillo rarely saw each other since their deployment in April.

"Katie did manage to fly up and see him twice, most recently on his birthday on June 9," Nate said. "That was the last time they spent some time together."

Nate said del Castillo was part of a large-scale operation that airlifted hundreds of U.S. and Afghan soldiers into the rugged, insurgent-laced mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

News reports of the fighting indicated U.S. and Afghan forces were being met with fierce resistance by the Taliban. Del Castillo was one of five soldiers reported by the U.S. Department of Defense as being killed during battle there.