The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH)
Slain Marine who cradled baby at Kabul airport loved her job
A woman who cradled a baby in her arms at the airport and posted on social media that she loved her job. A young husband with a child on the way. Another man who always wanted to be in the military. A man who planned to become a sheriff’s deputy when his deployment ended. Heartwrenching details emerged about some of the 13 U.S. troops killed in a horrific suicide bombing at Afghanistan’s Kabul airport, which also claimed the lives of more than 160 Afghans.
Eleven Marines, one Navy sailor and one Army soldier were among the dead, while 18 other U.S. service members were wounded in Thursday’s bombing, which was blamed on Afghanistan’s offshoot of the Islamic State group. The U.S. said it was the most lethal day for American forces in Afghanistan since 2011.
Here are the stories of some of the victims and the people mourning them:
MAXTON SOVIAK, 22
The flag in front of the Ohio home where Navy Hospital Corpsman Maxton Soviak’s parents live was at half-staff and a steady stream of visitors stopped by to pay their respects.
Soviak, of Berlin Heights, was remembered as a friendly guy who amused others.
“Max always was smiling,” said Vince Ragnoni, his electrical technology teacher. “Max was good for pulling shenanigans and liked to get other people to laugh.”
Soviak graduated from Edison High School in 2017, where he also wrestled and played football. At Friday night’s football game, fans honored him with a moment of silence.
He enlisted in September 2017 and attended Hospital Corpsman School in San Antonio, Texas, before postings in Guam and at Camp Pendleton.
“He had just joined the Navy and he started telling me about what he’d be doing,” Ragnoni said.
“I told him I knew he would do great things. He was happy and excited about that.”
NICOLE GEE, 23
A week before she was killed, Sgt. Nicole Gee cradled a baby in her arms at the Kabul airport. She posted the photo on Instagram and wrote, “I love my job.”
Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California, was a maintenance technician with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Sgt. Mallory Harrison, who lived with Gee for three years, 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.”
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.”
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 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 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.”
RYLEE McCOLLUM, 20
Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, a Marine and native of Bondurant, Wyoming, was married and his wife is expecting a baby in three weeks, his sister, Cheyenne McCollum, said.
“He was so excited to be a dad, and he was going to be a great dad,” McCollum said. She said her brother “was a Marine before he knew he was allowed to be a Marine . ... He’d carry around his toy rifle and wear his sister’s pink princess snow boots and he’d either be hunting or he was a Marine. Sometimes it would be with nothing on underneath, just a T-shirt.”
McCollum said her brother wanted to be a history teacher and a wrestling coach once he completed his service. Another sister, Roice McCollum, told the Casper Star Tribune that her brother was on his first deployment when the evacuation in Afghanistan began.
“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,” Cheyenne McCollum said.
Regi Stone, the father of one of Rylee McCollum’s friends, described McCollum as “a good kid,” who was resilient, smart and courageous. Stone shared a note that his wife, Kim, sent to their son Eli Stone, who is also in the military and deployed elsewhere. Kim wrote that she remembered telling the friends to run the other way if they had to go in first and that both of them said, “If we die doing this, we die doing what we love.”
KAREEM MAE’LEE GRANT NIKOUI, 20
Lance Cpl. Kareem Mae’Lee Grant Nikoui, of Norco, California, sent videos to his family hours before he died, showing himself interacting with children in Afghanistan. In one clip, he asked a young boy to say hello.
“Want to take a video together buddy?” Nikoui said, leaning in to take a video of himself with the boy. “All right, we’re heroes now, man.”
Family friend Paul Arreola said the videos show “the heart of this young man, the love he has.”
“The family is just heartbroken,” he said. Arreola described Nikoui as an “amazing young man” full of promise who always wanted to be a Marine and set out to achieve his goal. He is survived by his parents and three siblings.
“He loved this country and everything we stand for. It’s just so hard to know that we’ve lost him,” he said, crying.
Nikoui was in the JROTC, and the Norco High School Air Force JROTC posted on Facebook that he was “one of our best Air Force JROTC cadets” and that “Kareem was set on being a Marine & always wanted to serve his country.”
Others who sacrificed their lives include: Humberto Sanchez, 22; Jared Schmitz, 20; Taylor Hoover, 21; Deagan William-Tyeler Page, 23; Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25; Ryan Knauss, 23; Hunter Lopez, 22; David Lee Espinoza, 20.