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Some of the 13 U.S. service members who were killed in a suicide bomb attack Thursday outside the Kabul airport were identified Friday by family members, friends and local lawmakers, who took to social media to commemorate the soldiers and one sailor who gave their lives to help Americans and their allies evacuate Afghanistan.
Rylee McCollum, a 20-year-old Marine from Wyoming who “wanted to help people” and often stood up for classmates who were bullied, his father Mark Gordon told The New York Times,,had been guarding a checkpoint when the explosion happened, leaving behind a wife and a baby expected to be born in September.
Another 20-year-old Marine from Missouri, Jared Schmitz, graduated high school in 2019 before joining the Marines, something he “always wanted to do,” his father, Mark Schmitz told radio station KMOX, saying he’d never seen anyone “train as hard as he did to be the best soldier he could be.”
Hunter Lopez, a 22-year-old California Marine and the son of two Riverside County sheriff’s deputies, was a Riverside sheriff’s explorer scout for three years and planned to join the force like his father after deployment, the Riverside Sheriff’s Association told the TV station KTLA, saying Hunter “chose to follow a life of service, selflessness, courage and sacrifice, like his parents.”
David Espinoza, a 20-year-old Marine from Texas who graduated from Lyndon B. Johnson High School in 2019, “embodied the values, the grit and the dedication” of a U.S. military service member, Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar told the Washington Post.
Another California Marine, Kareem Nikoui, who joined the ROTC and graduated high school in 2019 before enlisting, was identified by his hometown, Norco, in a Facebook post as one of the soldiers killed in action, and the city says his name will be added to its memorial for fallen soldiers.
The only sailor killed in the attack, Max Soviak, an Ohio Navy hospital corpsman in his 20s, was paid tribute by his former high school, which said Soviak was a good student and “full of life” on social media, and by his sister Marilyn Soviak, who wrote on Instagram, “my beautiful, intelligent, beat-to-the-sound of his own drum, annoying, charming baby brother was killed yesterday helping to save lives … and my family will never be the same.”
The U.S. has been rushing to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from the country to meet President Biden’s goal of withdrawing all U.S. troops by August 31 — a goal that became much more complicated following the Taliban’s unexpectedly rapid conquest of the country. Biden dispatched thousands of additional troops to the country for evacuation operations. On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued an alert for Americans to “leave immediately” due to security threats, and one day later, a suicide bombing attack was carried out that has been attributed to the Islamic State terrorist group. At least 15 U.S. troops were injured in the attack and nearly 200 Afghans were killed. U.S. forces have helped evacuate over 109,000 people since Aug. 14.