'I love my job': US Marine posted moving photo of herself with an Afghan child just days before she was killed

·9-min read

One of Nicole Gee's last social media posts was a photo of her cradling a baby amid the chaos outside Kabul's airport.

The US Marine Sergeant was among thousands of American military personnel helping citizens of her country and selected Afghans make their way to the flights that would take them to safety.

And on Thursday, she was among the 13 American military personnel killed after a suicide bombing.

Two Britons were also killed - taxi driver and father-of-four Mohammad Niazi, and business owner Musa Popal - along with more than 160 Afghans.

Nicole Gee was a 23-year-old maintenance technician from Sacramento, California, who had joined the Marines in 2017.

She had initially wanted to be an air traffic controller, her father Richard Herrera told the Washington Post, but a heartbeat irregularity had prevented that.

Mr Herrera said Ms Gee had been a "very determined kid" who excelled in school.

During a text conversation a few days before her death, he had "told her I was proud of her".

"She was a perfect child. She never got in trouble. She always went down the right road. She never got distracted.

"I'm sorry. It's hard," he told the newspaper.

Sgt Mallory Harrison, who lived with her for three years, wrote on social media: "I can't quite describe the feeling I get when I force myself to come back to reality and think about how I'm never going to see her again.

"How her last breath was taken doing what she loved - helping people.

"Then there was an explosion. And just like that, she's gone."

Navy Hospital Corpsman Maxton (Max) Soviak, was a 22-year-old from Berlin Heights, Ohio.

He was described by his sister Marilyn as "my beautiful, intelligent, beat-to-the-sound of his own drum, annoying, charming baby brother".

Thomas Roth, superintendent of Edison Local School District, told USA Today that Mr Soviak had "enjoyed life", participating in the football, track, wrestling and tennis teams at school, as well as the band.

"He was a good kid, a good student and people just enjoyed being around him," Mr Roth said.

Mr Soviak's family said in a statement that he was "a wonderful son who loved his family, his community, and was proud to serve in the US Navy".

"He was excited about the opportunities the navy would offer him and planned to make the navy a career.

"We are incredibly proud of his service to our country."

The US Navy confirmed Mr Soviak had enlisted in 2017.

Taylor Hoover was a 31-year-old Staff Sergeant and an 11-year veteran of the Marines.

He was from Utah and had two sisters, as well as a girlfriend in California.

His father, Darin Hoover, was told of his death when Marines came to his house in Salt Lake City on Thursday night.

Mr Hoover said of his son: "He is a hero. He gave his life protecting those that can't protect themselves, doing what he loved - serving his country."

He said he had heard from Marines throughout the day on Friday who had served with his son and said they were grateful to have had him as their sergeant.

"They look back on him and say that they've learned so much from him. One heck of a leader.

"He was the most loving, giving, understanding person you could ever meet."

His aunt Brittany Barnett posted on Facebook: "Always a smile. Always respectful. A joy to be around. He is adored beyond measure.

"The world has lost a true light. Our hearts are broken. Shock, disbelief, horror, sadness, sorrow, anger and grief."

Daegan William-Tyeler Page was a 23-year-old Corporal based at Camp Pendleton in California.

He had hoped to go to trade school and possibly become a lineman after his service ended.

Page was raised in Red Oak, Iowa, and joined the Marines after finishing high school.

He leaves behind a girlfriend, parents, step-mother and step-father, four siblings, and grandparents.

In a statement, his family said: "Daegan will always be remembered for his tough outer shell and giant heart.

"Our hearts are broken, but we are thankful for the friends and family who are surrounding us during this time. Our thoughts and prayers are also with the other Marine and Navy families whose loved ones died alongside Daegan."

Ryan Knauss was a 23-year-old Army Staff Sergeant in Special Forces Command on his second deployment to Afghanistan.

Colonel Jeremy Mushtare, commander, 8th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) said: "Ryan was the embodiment of an Army Special Operations Forces soldier, a testament to the professionalism of the non-commissioned officer corps, and a steadfast husband and teammate. His loss is devastating to our formation and army family."

Mr Knauss, of Corryton, Tennessee, was married and was described by his step-mother Linnae Knauss as "a super-smart, hilarious young man".

His grandfather Wayne Knauss told WATE-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee: "He was a believer, so we will see him again in God's heaven."

His school teacher Angela Hoffman told WATE-TV that he had been keen to join the military from a young age, citing an essay he had written as a student.

"In his essay, he wrote nine years ago almost to this date that for him a role model is anyone who stands up against power to help others.

"He wrote that nine years ago as a 14-year-old boy, not knowing the man he was going to become."

Rylee McCollum was a 20-year-old Marine from Wyoming, whose wife is expecting a baby in three weeks, according to his sister Cheyenne McCollum.

"He was so excited to be a dad, and he was going to be a great dad," she said, adding that he had wanted to be a history teacher and a wrestling coach after his service.

"We want to make sure that people know that these are the kids that are sacrificing themselves, and he's got a family who loves him and a wife who loves him and a baby that he'll never get to meet."

Another sister, Roice McCollum, told the Casper Star Tribune that her brother, a Lance Corporal, was on his first deployment.

Kareem Nikoui

The Lance Corporal, 20, is survived by his parents and three siblings, who were described by family friend Paul Arreola as "heartbroken".

Mr Arreola said Mr Nikoui, from California, was an "amazing young man" who had always wanted to be a Marine, adding: "He loved this country and everything we stand for. It's just so hard to know that we've lost him."

Mr Nikoui was in the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps and the Norco High School Air Force JROTC said on Facebook that he had been "one of our best Air Force JROTC cadets".

He had sent videos to his family hours before his death of his interactions with Afghan children, telling one of them: "All right, we're heroes now, man."

Jared Schmitz

The 20-year-old Marine Lance Corporal grew up in St Louis and his father was told of his death when Marines came to his home in Wentzville, Missouri, in the early hours of Friday.

Mr Schmitz said: "(Being a Marine) was something he always wanted to do, and I've never seen a young man train as hard as he did to be the best soldier he could be.

"His life meant so much more. I'm incredibly devastated that I won't be able to see the man that he was very quickly growing into becoming."

Hunter Lopez

The 22-year-old from California worked with the sheriff's department for three years before joining the Marines in 2017, according to Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco.

Mr Bianco said Mr Lopez planned to follow in his parents' footsteps and become a sheriff's deputy after his deployment.

On Facebook, he said: "I am unbelievably saddened and heartbroken for the Lopez family as they grieve over the loss of their American hero.

"Our entire department is mourning this tragic loss. The Lopez family exemplifies the meaning of service above self."

David Lee Espinoza was a Lance Corporal, 20, was from Texas, and his death was confirmed by Congressman Henry Cuellar.

In a statement, Mr Cuellar said Mr Espinoza "embodied the values of America: grit, dedication, service, and valour".

"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."

Mr Cuellar concluded: "The brave never die. Mr Espinoza is a hero."

Johanny Rosario, 25, served with the Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, as supply chief.

The Sergeant was from the Massachusetts mill town of Lawrence, having been born in the Dominican Republic.

"We will not allow her to be forgotten," said Jaime Melendez, director of veterans services in Lawrence, where Rosario attended high school.

Sonia Guzmán, the Dominican Republic's ambassador to the United States, tweeted that the Caribbean nation shares in the loss.

"Peace to your soul," she wrote in Spanish.

Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, was a Corporal in the Marines and was among 17 members of his Indiana high school class who joined the military after graduation.

School principal Matt Jones said: "Humberto was a bright, athletic young man who was popular, well-liked by his soccer teammates, classmates, coaches and teachers."

"He was honoured to be putting on the Marines uniform and serving his country."

Dylan R. Merola was a 20-year-old Lance Corporal from Rancho Cucamonga, California.

His mother, Cheryl, told CBS2 her son had been in Kabul for less than two weeks and was planning to go to college to study engineering.

She also recalled his final text message to her before the Thursday bombing.

"He wrote 'I won't be able to talk for a little while, we're being sent to a different location. I love you and I'll talk to you soon'.

"He was one of the best kids ever. Kind. Loving. Giving to every single person. He would give anything for anybody."

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