HESPERIA, CALIF. — The sun has barely crested over the stark Granite Mountains and Audrey Delgadillo is already scurrying around her house.

The 20-year-old dashes outside to warm the engine of the family's dusty Ford Taurus, stirs her two youngest sisters out of bed, picks up toys in the living room and checks the bedroom of her other two sisters to make sure they've left for school.

It's been Delgadillo's morning routine ever since her mother and stepfather were sent to Iraq, leaving her to look after her four little sisters — Stephanie, 17, Grace, 10, Ashley, 4, and Emily, 3.

Just before summer, Sgt. Claudia Hernandez-Smith and Sgt. Gary Smith were deployed with a Black Hawk helicopter division of the Army's 131st Aviation Regiment stationed at Balad Air Base, about 50 miles north of Baghdad.

"I have always known that I could be taken away from them," Hernandez-Smith, a helicopter mechanic for the unit, said during a live computer chat from Iraq. "But knowing that she was there made it that much easier to cope with."

The Hesperia couple requested to serve together, and the Army, under its recently implemented simultaneous deployment program for married couples, was happy to oblige. So far, 1,712 people have requested to be considered for joint deployment with their spouses.

"The bottom line is that as long as the soldiers requesting simultaneous deployment have a family-care plan in place, there is not an issue with having both members deployed at the same time," said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Kevin V. Arata. "It's just a process of better serving our soldiers. If the husband and wife are together, they are going to be happier."

Delgadillo, tiny and tomboyish with wire-rimmed glasses, readily admits that, at times, she feels robbed. She spends precious little time with her fiance or going out with friends. Instead, it's a daily grind of cleaning, cooking and shopping.

"This is something that I asked for and wanted to do," Delgadillo said. "But sometimes I feel like I grew up too fast. Sometimes, I feel like I missed out."

On a recent Wednesday, Delgadillo drops Ashley and Emily off at day care, where she discusses a potty training strategy with their teacher, Carol Dyson.

She returns home and checks her list of chores scribbled in her notebook. Some errands are already crossed out.

Clean my room. Mop. Pay house bills. Get oil changes for the Ford and Saturn. Send out mom's package. Put drawer together. Clean frontyard.

First, she picks up pieces of a "Little Mermaid" jigsaw puzzle scattered across the living room floor.

A picture of her mother and stepfather hangs on the living room's foyer. He is in his Army regalia, she in a sleek black dress.

"I told my mom, 'Don't ever feel like you put this on me,' " Delgadillo says. "It was my decision, and we knew since she joined the Army that one day she was going to be called."

That call came last April.

Her mother, an Army Reservist for the last decade, was working with the Census Bureau in Azusa. Her stepfather, a helicopter crew chief, had just returned from more than a yearlong tour in Iraq.

There was never any doubt that Sgt. Hernandez-Smith would answer the call, but her husband also wanted to return for his wife's first tour of duty. She left that April; he followed three months later.

"We as a family decided that I should go with her to try and help her with being away from the girls," Smith said. "Plus, I was worried for her safety and wanted to keep an eye out for her."