The (family) ties that bind

Craig brothers deployed in Iraq cross paths in Fallujah

Linda Nichols and Jim Hixson had bittersweet reactions to a phone call they each received from their sons, Gregory and Cory Hixson, both of whom are in the United States Marine Corps and deployed overseas.

Gregory, 22, left for Iraq on Sept. 3. His brother, Cory, 21, followed Friday. Both ended up in Fallujah, Iraq.

"Cory said he was sitting there messing with his gear and saw someone standing over him," Jim said. "It was Greg."

When Linda got the call Monday, she said Greg asked her to guess who was there with him. She said Cory was the last person she would have considered.

"I actually told Gregory before they left, 'I hope you see each other,'" Linda said. "You have no idea how big Fallujah is, though, and how it's set up.

"It made me feel better," she said. "This is always how it's been. They have always been together."

The two men will only be together for a few days, however, as Cory's unit is set to move soon.

"(Greg) wishes he could be over there with (Cory) all the time so it'd be easier for both of them being away from home," Greg's wife, Brandy, said, "but it didn't work out that way."

Greg, who is expected to return in March, most likely will miss the birth of his second son, who is due at the beginning of December.

"I'm pretty used to the idea, considering we've been preparing for it for a while," Brandy said. "It's hard, but we've got other family that helps out. It's not the same as having Daddy around, but we're making it."

Brandy said her son, Gregory, 3, has been getting along pretty well without his father, though he talks about him frequently.

"I think he's kind of lacking companionship right now because last night he was playing with my dad (Lloyd Powers of Craig) the way he plays with his dad," she said.

Although Greg is homesick, Brandy said he tries not to think too much about his family.

"He's more focused on what's going on over there than what's going on here, for sanity reasons and safety reasons," she said.

Linda said she is worried about the men's safety while they're deployed.

"They're getting hit every other day," she said. "I remember Cory said the other day on the phone, 'It's bad. It's bad over here.'"

Jim said he also is concerned about his sons' well-being, though he understands what they are experiencing. He is a Marine and served in Vietnam.

"Greg said he knew exactly what I felt like going to Vietnam," he said. "There's a bond between us now."

Jim said he has encouraged his sons to serve since an early age, and is proud of their work now.

"I've always talked about the Marine Corps since they can remember," he said. "I call them little baby Marines."

Cory joined the Corps first and has served for a little more than two years. Greg signed up after attending Cory's boot camp graduation. Both are lance corporals who were stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Greg is a truck driver in the 9th Communication Battalion. Cory is a squad automatic weapon gunner with the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines I Company.

Both men's jobs took them overseas recently. Greg was in Kuwait for one month in February, and Cory went to Baghdad in March 2002 for a seven-month stay. Linda said she is proud to have her sons fighting, but it's weighing heavily on her mind.

"The other morning, I woke up at five in the morning and I couldn't sleep," she said. "I just couldn't stop thinking of both of my boys."

Both of Greg and Cory's parents tear up at the thought of their sons' return home.

"Every time I talk to them I tell them I'm proud of them and I love them and I can't wait 'til they come home," Linda said. "To have them home and have them safe ... just spending time with family and friends and having a good time."

For the men's father, feelings are a little harder to express.

"I can't really talk about it," Jim said. "It's tough, I tell you, having them over there. (I want) just to be with them, just to have them back."

Letters may be sent to Cory at: Lance Cpl. Cory J. Hixson, 3/5 I Co. 3rd Plt., Unit 40385, FPO-AP 96426-0385. Those interested in writing to Greg may contact the family, as they have not yet received his address.

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