Brandy Hixson didn't cry when she saw her husband, Greg, for the first time in more than seven months. He'd been in Iraq, fighting for the U.S. Marines, and all she could do was smile.
"It was just how I imagined it would be," Brandy said.
Her son, Gregory, 3, had the same reaction. He didn't say a word, just smiled.
"He had a permanent cheeser on him," Greg said.
Greg returned to Camp Pendleton, Calif., on March 23 to a big celebration, but all the Craig native wanted to do was go home with his family. First, though, officers made the Marines stand at attention before greeting their loved ones.
Greg asked Brandy to leave their baby, Kaden, age 4 months, at home with Brandy's mom. He didn't want the other Marines to see his son before he could for the first time.
The couple has a home on the base and will be moving into another newly built one when they return at the end of this month. Greg is looking forward to some downtime.
"I don't have to worry about stuff anymore," he said. "I can relax."
That's what he's doing now in Craig, visiting his parents for a few days.
Greg, a lance corporal, was stationed in Camp Fallujah during his time in Iraq. He operated a .50-caliber machine gun on top of a 7-ton truck.
Much of his time was spent on convoys; he went on more than 50 during his stay.
"I was there to pick up people, get supplies," he said.
He recalls one incident while driving down the road at 3 a.m. New Year's Day. An Iraqi vehicle suddenly stopped on the road.
"We knew something was up because they had to be inside by 11," Greg said.
But curfew didn't keep the occupants from shooting at Greg's vehicle. The Marines shot back, and the truck turned off its headlights and sped away.
He became accustomed to the sound of explosions far away and even close by.
"(I was) nervous and scared and excited at the same time. An adrenaline rush," he said. "You never know what's going to happen."
He got a wake-up call, literally, when he heard his brother, Cory, was injured. Both brothers were in Iraq with the Marines and got to spend some time together.
Greg rushed to the hospital to find his brother's left eye had been hit with shrapnel during a battle.
"I got scared. I started crying," he said. "I started hugging him and asked him what happened."
Cory was lifted into an ambulance and Greg didn't see his little brother again until he got back to Camp Pendleton some 5 1/2 months later.
"When he was there, I had someone, in a way. Even if we weren't together, I had someone," Greg said. "Things sucked when he left. I didn't want to be over there anymore."
Cory was waiting in his brother's kitchen to surprise him when he finally joined him in the states.
Both are back in California, and Cory is living in barracks on base. He has a prosthetic eye. Jim Hixson, their father, said Cory has a doctor's appointment next week to check into getting another one. His current one does not have the right color or positioning.
Cory aims to get out of the Marines soon, a year and a half before his enlistment is up. Greg has two more years to go, and is not sure whether he'll go overseas again or not.
But one thing's for sure: He doesn't want to.
"When you're over there, all you talk about is what you're going to do when you get back," he said.
The only components of the war that he misses are the men with whom he fought.
"You know everything about them," Greg said. "They're like your brothers."
But now he's back with his real brother and couldn't be happier. Still, the war seems to be on his mind.
Even at his dad's home Thurs-day afternoon, Greg couldn't help but watch as the report of six new deaths in Iraq was broadcast on the television.
"I bet this war goes on for a long time," he said. "I bet it goes on forever."