US Marine who stood 15 feet away from Kabul suicide bomber gives first ...

US Marine who stood 15 feet away from Kabul suicide bomber gives first ...
US Marine who stood 15 feet away from Kabul suicide bomber gives first ...

On August 26, 2021, 11 Marines, one Navy corpsman, and one Army staff sergeant were killed in a suicide attack in Kabul that also claimed more than 160 Afghan lives. The US servicemembers were on a mission of mercy to evacuate at-risk Afghans after the disastrous US withdrawal led to a Taliban takeover. These are their stories:

Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23

Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee was was a maintenance technician with 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Roseville, California.

A week before she was killed, Gee cradled a baby in her arms at the Kabul airport. She posted the photo on Instagram and wrote, 'I love my job.' 

Sgt. Mallory Harrison, who lived with Gee for three years and called her a 'sister forever' and best friend, wrote about the magnitude of her loss.

'I can't quite describe the feeling I get when I force myself to come back to reality & think about how I´m never going to see her again,' Harrison wrote on Facebook. 'How her last breath was taken doing what she loved - helping people. ... Then there was an explosion. And just like that, she's gone.'

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Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23, is seen four days before she was killed, escorting Afghans on to a plane in Kabul

Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23, is seen four days before she was killed, escorting Afghans on to a plane in Kabul

Just days before she was killed in the suicide blast, St. Nicole Gee was photographed holding an Afghan baby

Just days before she was killed in the suicide blast, St. Nicole Gee was photographed holding an Afghan baby

Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23, of Roseville, California was among those killed in the attack in Kabul

Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23, of Roseville, California was among those killed in the attack in Kabul

Gee, 23, (left and right) of Roseville, California was among those killed in the attack in Kabul 

Nicole Gee (left middle), a maintenance technician with 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), awaits the launch of an MV-22B Osprey during an exercise in April

Nicole Gee (left middle), a maintenance technician with 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), awaits the launch of an MV-22B Osprey during an exercise in April

Gee's Instagram page shows another photo of her in fatigues, holding a rifle next to a line of people walking into the belly of a large transport plane. She wrote: 'escorting evacuees onto the bird.'

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The social media account that includes many selfies after working out at the gym lists her location as California, North Carolina and 'somewhere overseas.'

Photos show her on a camel in Saudi Arabia, in a bikini on a Greek isle and holding a beer in Spain. One from this month in Kuwait shows her beaming with her meritorious promotion to sergeant.

Harrison said her generation of Marines hears war stories from veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, but they seem distant amid boring deployments until 'the peaceful float you were on turns into ... your friends never coming home.'

Gee´s car was still parked in a lot at Camp Lejeune and Harrison mused about all the Marines who walked past it while she was overseas.

'Some of them knew her. Some of them didn´t.' she said. 'They all walked past it. The war stories, the losses, the flag-draped coffins, the KIA bracelets & the heartbreak. It´s not so distant anymore.'

Friends mourned Gee (right) whom they called a 'model Marine' and a 'Marine's Marine'

Friends mourned Gee (right) whom they called a 'model Marine' and a 'Marine's Marine'

'She cared about people. She loved fiercely. She was a light in this dark world. She was my person,' said friend and fellow Marine Mallory Harrison in a Facebook post on Gee (center right)

'She cared about people. She loved fiercely. She was a light in this dark world. She was my person,' said friend and fellow Marine Mallory Harrison in a Facebook post on Gee (center right)

'She cared about people. She loved fiercely. She was a light in this dark world. She was my person,' said Harrison in a Facebook post. 

'I find peace knowing that she left this world doing what she loved. She was a Marine's Marine,' she said.

'She was doing God's work…..a warrior. Searching Afghan women and children trying to get out of country,' Captain Karen Holliday said in a Facebook tribute.

Holliday called Gee a 'Model Marine. A leader on the ground in a chaotic situation.'

She said that a photo released of Gee a few days before her death, showing her escorting Afghans onto a waiting plane, had been bombarded with sexist online comments 'degrading her for being a female Marine.'  

Lance Corporal Dylan Merola, 20

Lance Corporal Dylan Merola, 20

Lance Corporal Dylan Merola, 20

Lance Corporal Merola was a Marine from Rancho Cucamonga, California. 

He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Camp Pendleton, California. 

The 20-year-old was a graduate of Los Osos High School, according to KABC-TV.

Students honored him at the football game on the Friday after the attack by wearing red, white and blue. 

'Dylan was a beloved son, brother, grandson, great grandson, nephew, a great friend, and a brave soldier,' said family friend Joseph Matsuoka on a GoFundMe page to raise money for his funeral.

Matsuoka said that Merola 'paid the ultimate sacrifice at the Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport during the evacuation.' 

Sgt. Johanny Rosario, 25

Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosario, 25

Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosario, 25

Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo was a Marine sergeant from Lawrence, Massachusetts assigned to 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Naval Support Activity Bahrain.

She was a graduate of Lawrence High School and attended Bridgewater State University. 

On social media, friends issued and outpouring of grief and devastation at Rosario's death. 

Nastassia Hyatt, a former Marine, recalled Rosario helping her through difficult times in a Facebook post.

'You brought me back to life. Back to life… back to life….' Hyatt wrote. 'I wish i could bring you back to life for just one last hug, one last smile, one last nap, one last meal… one last anything.'

'She the second half of my heart next to my son. Like she's everything to me. She is the greatest love I've ever known in a human besides my son. This one hit hard,' Hyatt said. 

'We are heartbroken by the death of the service men and women due to the bombing in Kabul this week. I and the City of Lawrence are particularly saddened that one of those brave souls was a daughter of our City,' said Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez in a statement to WCVB-TV.

The Dominican Republic's embassy in the United States tweeted that Rosario was originally from that Caribbean nation.

On social media, friends issued and outpouring of grief and devastation at Rosario's death

On social media, friends issued and outpouring of grief and devastation at Rosario's death

Sonia Guzmán, the Dominican Republic´s ambassador to the United States, tweeted that the Dominican community shares in the loss.

'Peace to your soul!' she tweeted in Spanish.

Rosario served with the Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which praised her efforts as supply chief this spring and thanked her for a job well done.

In Lawrence, Massachusetts, Mayor Kendrys Vasquez said he has been in contact with the family.

'We are heartbroken by the death of the servicemen and women due to the bombing in Kabul this week,' he said. 'I and the city of Lawrence are particularly saddened that one of those brave souls was a daughter of our city.'

The family wishes for privacy 'and that their loved one be recognized as the hero that she was,' the mayor said.

Rosario (center) was a Marine sergeant from Lawrence, Massachusetts with the Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade

Rosario (center) was a Marine sergeant from Lawrence, Massachusetts with the Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade

Melendez said people have strong feelings about the U.S. involvement that's coming to an end after two decades in Afghanistan.

'There are people on both sides of the fence. I get it,' he said. 'This is about one of our own, a daughter of Lawrence. For us it is definitely about her service and her family´s sacrifice. That´s what will be focusing on.'

'I have been in touch with the family of the Lawrencian killed in action to extend mine and my family's most sincere condolences and offer all of the aid that my administration can provide as they grieve this great loss,' the mayor said.

'At this time, the family's most immediate wish is to be given privacy and that their loved one be recognized as the hero that she was.' 

Hospitalman Maxton Soviak, 20 

Soviak, an Ohio native, joined the Navy after high school and became a hospital corpsman

Soviak, an Ohio native, joined the Navy after high school and became a hospital corpsman

Maxton William Soviak was a Navy corpsman from New Berlin, Ohio. He was assigned to 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, California

Weeks before his death, he made a tragic Instagram post on June 10, sharing a photo posing with other service members in what is believed to be Afghanistan.

'It's kill or be killed, definitely trynna be on the kill side,' he wrote in a comment on the post. Navy corpsmen often work alongside Marines, who do not have their own medics. 

Soviak's sister Marilyn said in her own Instagram post that her brother was there to 'help people'. 

'My beautiful, intelligent, beat-to-the-sound of his own drum, annoying, charming baby brother was killed yesterday helping to save lives. He was a f***ing medic. There to help people and now he is gone and my family will never be the same,' she wrote. 

'He was just a kid. We are sending kids over there to die. Kids with families that now have holes just like ours,' she added. 'I'm not one for praying but d**n could those kids over there use some right now. My heart is in pieces and I don't think they'll ever fit back right again.'

Soviak was named as a casualty of the attack by his high school in Milan, Ohio, where he graduated in 2017. 

'It is with deepest sorrow that I am sharing this news,' Edison Local School District Superintendent Thomas Roth said in a statement. 

'Max was a good student who was active in sports and other activities throughout his school career. He was well respected and liked by everyone who knew him. Max was full of life in everything he did.' 

Maxton William Soviak (center), a medic in his early 20s, made this tragic post on June 10, writing 'It's kill or be killed, definitely trynna be on the kill side'. Marines Hunter Lopez (left) and Daegan Page (right) were also killed in the attack

Maxton William Soviak (center), a medic in his early 20s, made this tragic post on June 10, writing 'It's kill or be killed, definitely trynna be on the kill side'. Marines Hunter Lopez (left) and Daegan Page (right) were also killed in the attack

Soviak's sister Marilyn said an Instagram post that her brother was there to 'help people'

Soviak's sister Marilyn said an Instagram post that her brother was there to 'help people'

Soviak took pride in his Navy service and worked alongside Marines in Afghanistan

Soviak took pride in his Navy service and worked alongside Marines in Afghanistan

Soviak was named as a casualty of the attack by his high school in Milan, Ohio

In high school, Soviak was on the honor roll and played football

In high school, Soviak was on the honor roll and played football. He was named as a casualty of the attack by his high school in Milan, Ohio

Soviak's family confirmed his death to local media and have asked for privacy. 

In high school, Soviak was on the honor roll and played football, according to the Sandusky Register

Soviak was among the nearly 6,000 US troops now working frantically to evacuate Americans and Afghan refugees from Kabul, with just days remaining before President Joe Biden's August 31 deadline to withdraw. 

Lance Corporal David Lee Espinoza, 20 

David Lee Espinoza, 20, was one of the Marines killed in the attack

David Lee Espinoza, 20, was one of the Marines killed in the attack

David Lee Espinoza, was a 20-year-old U.S. Marine from Rio Grande, Texas.

His mother, Elizabeth Holguin, said: 'He was a very good person. He served his country. He helped in any way he could. He was there (in Afghanistan), helping innocent people.'

This was his second deployment; he first made a trip to the Middle East and arrived in Afghanistan for about a week.

Holguin said she was uneasy about him being deployed there.

'I prayed every day,' she said.

He is one of four children; he is not married and has no children.

The mom last spoke with him the Tuesday before the attack.

'I just told him to be careful, that I was worried about him and I couldn't wait for him to come back,' Holguin said. 'He told me he was fine and not to worry…. He was brave. If he was scared, he didn't show it.'

She said she holds no animosity toward the president, saying her son 'wanted to be there.'

Holguin learned her son was dead when she received a phone call on the Friday after the attack at 2.30am.

'He was just brave enough to go do what he wanted and to help out people. That´s who he was, he was just perfect,' his mother, Elizabeth Holguin, told the Laredo Morning Times.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said Espinoza 'embodied the values of America: grit, dedication, service, and valor. When he joined the military after high school, he did so with the intention of protecting our nation and demonstrating his selfless acts of service.'

Cuellar concluded, 'The brave never die. Mr. Espinoza is a hero.'

Lance Corporal Rylee McCollum, 20 

Marine Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum was killed in the attack

Marine Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum was killed in the attack

Marine Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum was named by his high school in Wyoming as a casualty in the attack. 

He was expecting to become a father and was pictured with his pregnant wife shortly before deploying to Afghanistan in April.

Cheyenne McCollum, Rylee's sister, told DailyMail.com her brother had wanted to be a Marine since he was a toddler – and that his own baby is due in just three weeks.

'Rylee was an amazing, man with a passion for the Marines. He was a son, a brother, a husband and a father with a baby due in just 3 weeks,' she said.

'He wanted to be a marine his whole life and carried around his rifle in his diapers and cowboy boots.

'He was determined to be in infantry and this was his first deployment. Rylee was sent to Afghanistan when the evac began. Rylee was manning the check point when he suicide bomb went off.

'Rylee wanted to be a history teacher and a wrestling coach when he finished serving his country. He's a tough, kind, loving kid who made an impact on everyone he met. His joke and wit brought so much joy.

'To his friends and teammates and coaches, he was family. Rylee will always be a hero not just for the ultimate sacrifice he made for our country but for the way he impacted every life around him for the better. Making us stronger, kinder, teaching us to love deeper. We love you Rylee.'

Rylee McCollum graduated from Summit Innovations School in Jackson in 2019. 

Wyoming Schools Superintendent Jillian Balow said in a statement: 'Saying that I am grateful for Rylee's service to our country does not begin to encapsulate the grief and sadness I feel today as a mother and as an American.' 

'My heart and prayers are with Rylee's family, friends, and the entire Jackson community,' she added.

Rylee McCollum was named by his high school in Wyoming as a casualty in the attack

Rylee McCollum was named by his high school in Wyoming as a casualty in the attack

Rylee McCollum was due to become a father. He is pictured with his pregnant wife, right, shortly before deploying to Afghanistan in April

Rylee McCollum was due to become a father. He is pictured with his pregnant wife, right, shortly before deploying to Afghanistan in April

Rylee McCollum was due to become a father. He is pictured with his pregnant wife, right, shortly before deploying to Afghanistan in April

The Wyoming-born Marine's wrestling coach and close family friend, Benjamin Arlotta said 'heads should roll' over the disastrous US exit and that the young soldier's family is 'absolutely broken'.

Arlotta told DailyMail.com that even in diapers McCollum would stand watch on his porch with a toy rifle, first said he wanted to be a Marine aged eight, and signed up on his 18th birthday.

In a glowing eulogy to the young expectant father, whose new baby is due in three weeks, Arlotta described McCollum as a 'personal hero' and a 'fantastic brother, fantastic uncle, and a wonderful friend'.

'I was his wrestling coach since he was six. He was one of the best. A great kid, a great young man and an American patriot. He loved being a Marine,' Arlotta said.

'He was just a good man all around. We're all hurting pretty bad.

'It's impossible. I'm sitting here with the family right now – with his dad and two sisters, his brother-in-law and niece. They're shattered, they're absolutely broken. The entire community is.'

Arlotta, 37, said he is furious at the Biden administration and blames the White House for putting soldiers in an unnecessarily dangerous position.

'It's a junk show, an absolute junk show. Not just for Rylee but for every serviceman and woman over there. They were put in a very terrible spot. In my opinion this entire circumstance has been mismanaged from every level,' he told DailyMail.com.

'The only thing I can hope for is that accountability isn't forgotten. Because for the 13 men who were killed yesterday, heads need to roll for the way things have gone.

Benjamin Arlotta, and his wife, Talia, are long-time family friends of the McCollums. Benjamin said he is angry and devastated

Benjamin Arlotta, and his wife, Talia, are long-time family friends of the McCollums. Benjamin said he is angry and devastated 

'We're just seeing the beginning of it. It's not over, it's only going to get worse. Everybody in the country needs to be praying for our servicemen and women right now. They have a scrap out in front of them.

'Sadly those 13 Marines aren't going to be the last ones to perish because of these terrible decisions that were made.'

Recalling fond memories of the young Jackson Hole native, the wrestling coach told a heartwarming story of McCollum's determination.

'When he was 13 he came into the competition season 32lbs heavier than where he wanted to be,' Arlotta said.

'He told me he would lose it. We made a bet. I was going to quit chewing tobacco if he could get down there. That was September, by the time the state championship rolled around in January he had made weight.

'He entered the wrestling tournament at that weight and I quit chewing that day.

'He was first and foremost a man of his word. If he said he would do something, by goodness gracious he stood right in front of you until he did it.'

McCollum moved to California for training. His pregnant wife Jiennah 'Gigi' Crayton lives in the San Diego area.

The 20-year-old lance corporal wanted to be a soldier since childhood, first telling his parents he would join the Marines age eight.

'We were driving back from his first state wrestling tournament, I was riding with his family,' said Arlotta. 'We asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said he wanted to be in the Marines.

'He enlisted on his 18th birthday,' the coach added. 'When he actually enlisted his recruiter told him he could be anything, he could do any job. He swore up and down he wanted to be an infantryman.

'If you know Rylee, you know you can't talk him out of a damn thing, so that's what he did.'

U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney, a fellow Wyoming resident, issued a statement when she learned of Rylee's passing. 

'I want to offer my deepest condolences to Rylee McCollum's family and loved ones. His bravery and

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