Friends reflect on soldier killed in Afghanistan

Dimitri del Castillo and Katie Pulliam

Dimitri del Castillo and Katie Pulliam

CONYERS -- Friends and fellow soldiers of Katie Pulliam and Dimitri del Castillo remember them as a loving couple who had big plans for life after their tour of duty in Afghanistan. Those plans changed following the news of del Castillo's death during a battle against Taliban insurgent forces in northeast Afghanistan.

Pulliam, who grew up in Conyers and has family in both Rockdale and Newton counties, met del Castillo at the United States Military Academy at West Point as fellow cadets. The Academy wasn't the most conventional place to start their story, but there was nothing conventional about them.

"Katie liked Dimitri instantly, but I remember her playing hard to get," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Theresa Todd, one of Pulliam's friends. "Of course there were so many male cadets that wanted to date Katie, I'm sure Dimitri enjoyed winning the competition."

Things didn't change for the two and their feelings only grew stronger despite the grueling academic curriculum, mandatory events, and rugby practices at West Point.

Del Castillo spent the couple's Cow, or junior, year of school studying abroad in Spain, but the distance only fortified the ever-growing bond the two shared. Pulliam would start every day at West Point in New York with a call from Spain.

At the end of their time at West Point, just before graduation, Todd sat with Pulliam at a restaurant in nearby Central Valley, N.Y. where they talked about their future.

"Katie wanted to be with Dimitri," said Todd. "She wanted to fulfill 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., with the hopes of a deployment to Afghanistan while Pulliam was to be assigned to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.

A few months later, the couple was able to have Del Castillo reassigned to Hawaii where they started making plans for their future together.

"I remember Katie and Dimitri took a weekend trip to Maui where Dimitri proposed during their breakfast on the beach," recalled U.S. Army 1st Lt. Denise Quigley, a classmate and friend of the couple and also serving in Afghanistan with Pulliam. She explained the two planned their wedding for after their tours in Afghanistan were complete but were legally married prior to leaving.

Pulliam said she was extremely honored to be part of the dual military population -- both husband and wife actively serving in the military. She wrote recently "I work late nights with the threat of indirect fire looming in the back of my mind. 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."

Maj. David W. Eastburn is a public affairs officer with TF Bronco PAO, 3rd BCT, 25th Infantry Division (Light) and is stationed at Forward Operating Base Fenty, near Jalabad, Nangahar Province, Afghanistan.