Mon, September 27, 2021

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The 13 U.S. service members killed in the Kabul airport attack: What we know so far


The U.S. toll from Thursdays terrorist attack in Afghanistan came into sharper focus Friday, as the identities of 13 U.S. service members who were killed began to surface.

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A suicide bomber detonated explosives at a Kabul airport gate where U.S. troops were searching evacuees rushing to depart the country. At least 18 other troops were wounded in the bombing that killed at least 170 people. The attack was the single deadliest enemy strike against U.S. forces in Afghanistan since August 2011, when militants shot down a Chinook helicopter, killing 30 U. S. troops on board.

The Pentagon has yet to release the names of American service members killed. In a Friday briefing, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby did not say when the remains of the service members will arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the first transit place for U.S. service members killed overseas.

But names began to emerge in news reports, as family members confirmed the identities of the dead. Many of the slain service members were in their infancy in 2001, the year the Sept. 11 terror attacks triggered the U.S. war in Afghanistan, bookending their lives as the American effort comes to a close.

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Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, 20, Jackson, Wyo.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, 20, of Wentzville, Mo.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas.

Navy Hospital Corpsman Max Soviak, of Berlin Heights, Ohio

Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Riverside County, Calif.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, 20, of Norco, Calif.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover, 31, of Utah

Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan William-Tyeler Page, 23, of Omaha

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Kareem Nikoui

20, of Norco, Calif. - Steve Nikoui first saw the Marines nearing his home on his cellphone screen linked to his door bell camera, and he knew what their arrival meant, he told the Daily Beast. His son Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui had been in Kabul, and he closely monitored the news and any visitors who came to his home in Norco, Calif., he told the outlet, mindful that military protocol is to send notification officers to deliver grim news.

The Marines arrived Thursday night, choked up and emotional, he said. He wanted to absorb the news before anyone else in the family - so he could bear the responsibility of telling them himself.

"I'm still in shock. I haven't been able to grasp everything that's going on," he told the outlet. "He was born the same year it started, and ended his life with the end of this war."

Paul Arreola, a close friend of the Nikouis, said in a brief interview with The Washington Post that Nikoui's death devastated the family, but faith has helped them persevere. "He was an incredible individual with a great heart," Arreola said, adding that the family was about to depart for Dover.

News of Nikoui's death rippled through the community east of Los Angeles. It's not far from Camp Pendleton, where Nikoui was stationed, his father said. Nikoui would bring a squad's worth of Marines home with him on occasion, where they would sit down for a home-cooked meal, his father told the Daily Beast.

Nikoui's father lashed out at military officials and President Joe Biden over the disastrous attack. The Pentagon has produced few answers about how the attack occurred, saying there are clear failures. But officials have also said the job of searching Afghan evacuees exposed them to tremendous risk.

"I'm really disappointed in the way that the president has handled this, even more so the way the military has handled it. The commanders on the ground should have recognized this threat and addressed it," Nikoui told Reuters.

The city of Norco will add Nikoui's name to a memorial plaza that recognizes local service members killed in action, the city said on Twitter.

- Alex Horton

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Rylee McCollum

20, of Jackson, Wyo. -

The Marine got married in February, on Valentine's Day, before being sent overseas on his first deployment in April. The newlyweds were expecting their first child.

Then, two weeks ago, 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum was transferred to Afghanistan to help with the evacuation mission, McCollum's sister, Roice McCollum, said in an interview.

Roice McCollum said her family and McCollum's wife, Jiennah, who lives in San Diego, have been devastated, but "we knew he was where he wanted to be: serving his country. And that brings a little bit of peace and comfort."

Rylee McCollum, just a baby on 9/11, grew up in Jackson, Wyo., and wanted to join the armed forces since he was as young as 2, his sister said.

"He signed up the day he turned 18," Roice McCollum said. "That was his plan his whole life."

He attended Jackson Hole High School and Summit Innovations School in Jackson, and before joining the Marines he was a decorated wrestler.

His longtime coach Ben Arlotta described him as "cast-iron tough," an athlete who once managed to drop 30 pounds in five months before a state wrestling tournament - unparalleled willpower McCollum showed his whole life.

"He was always much bigger in character and in spirit than he was physically," Arlotta said. "He was always much, much bigger. I mean, quite frankly, I think he was much bigger than all of us."

McCollum met his wife after moving to San Diego for boot camp after high school. With just weeks left in his first tour of duty, his family expected that he would be home just in time to meet his new son or daughter - the newlyweds wanted the baby's gender to be a surprise.

- Meagan Flynn

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Jared Schmitz

20, of Wentzville, Mo. - Mark Schmitz, Jared's father, confirmed his death in a brief phone call with The Washington Post. He said his son had been a Marine since 2019.

Earlier Friday he told St. Louis radio station KMOX that his son, who was on his first deployment, had always wanted to serve his country in the military.

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

Mark Schmitz told the station that he was informed of his son's death after a middle-of-the-night knock on the door.

"The Marines came by last night at two-forty in the morning to give us the horrific news," Schmitz told KMOX.

Schmitz said his son was tireless in his preparation as a Marine.

"This 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," said Mark Schmitz.

- Shawn Boburg and Ellen McCarthy

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David Espinoza

20, of Rio Bravo, Texas - On Wednesday, Elizabeth Holguin received a call from her son, who was stationed in Kabul. Before hanging up, he said "I love you," she told The Post. That was the last time they ever spoke.

Inspired by the prospect of helping others, Espinoza had always dreamed of being a Marine, his mother said. He enlisted after graduating from high school.

"It was his calling and he died a hero," Holguin said.

Holguin remembered him as a quiet, soft-spoken young man who enjoyed spending time with family and friends. Now, her heart has "a David-sized hole nobody can fill," she said.

Espinoza graduated in 2019 from Lyndon B. Johnson High School in Laredo, Tex. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said he "embodied the values, the grit and the dedication" of the country's service members.

Espinoza hailed from Rio Bravo, a small, predominantly-Hispanic enclave some 10 miles away from Laredo, where his mother, stepfather and three younger siblings still live. The news of Espinoza's death, the congressman said, was unexpected and "hit close to home."

"When people talk about the border, they have a tendency of forgetting the good, patriotic people that believe in our country," he said. "David is certainly one of those examples of what we have here at the border: a young man that went across the world trying to get Americans and allies of the U.S. to safety."

Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff to honor the killed U.S. service members, including Espinoza.

"These heroes should never be forgotten," Abbott wrote on Twitter.

- María Luisa Paúl

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Hunter Lopez

22, of Riverside County, Calif. - Lopez, a corporal in the Marine Corps, was part of a family with strong roots in law enforcement in Southern California. His mother is a deputy sheriff and his father is a sheriff's captain in Riverside County, according to a statement issued by the Riverside Sheriffs' Association confirming his death.

Lopez had plans to join them as a sheriff's deputy after his deployment.

"Hunter was the victim of vicious evil and was killed because he wore a United States Marine uniform with love and pride," the association said. "Our entire community feels the anguish, and we mourn the death of Hunter, who answered the call to serve, defend and protect our nation."

"Like his parents who serve our community, being a Marine to Hunter wasn't a job; it was a calling," the association said.

- Shawn Boburg

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Max Soviak

Of Berlin Heights, Ohio - A native of northern Ohio, Soviak planned to make a career in the Navy, his family said in a statement.

"Max was a wonderful son who loved his family, his community, and was proud to serve in the U.S. Navy. He was excited about the opportunities the Navy would offer him," they said. "We are incredibly proud of his service to our country.

He was a 2017 graduate of Edison High School, which a released a statement mourning his loss.

"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," the statement said.

Those athletic endeavors included a state-champion wrestling team, his parents told The Post, and consecutive semifinal trips with the football team.

His last words to his mother over video chat, Kip and Rachel Soviak told The Post in a statement, were of comfort.

" 'Don't worry, mom, my guys got me; they won't let anything happen to me,' " his parents recounted. "... Today she realized that they all just went together."

His sister Marilyn Soviak posted a tribute on Instagram, saying her younger brother was in Afghanistan serving as a medic. He was the lone sailor killed in the attack.

"My beautiful, intelligent, beat-to-the-sound of his own drum, annoying, charming baby brother was killed yesterday helping to save lives," she wrote. "My heart is in pieces and I don't think they'll ever fit back right again."

He is survived by Kip and Rachel Soviak and 12 of their other children. His parents offered comfort to the other families directly affected by Thursday's attack.

"We would like to offer our condolences to the families that also lost a loved one yesterday," the Soviaks told The Post on Friday, "and wish a speedy recovery to those that were injured."

- Ellen McCarthy

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Taylor Hoover

31, of Utah - Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, on Twitter identified Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover as one of the service members killed. Hoover's family confirmed the news in a brief phone call.

"We'll be forever grateful for his sacrifice & legacy. He spent his last moments serving our state and nation, and we'll never forget his unwavering devotion," Moore tweeted.

The marine graduated high school in 2008, according to his Facebook profile. His family will remember him as a true hero, his father Darin Hoover said.

"He's a true hero. And did what he loved doing, serving the United States," he said.

- Dalvin Brown

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Daegan William-Tyeler Page

23, of Omaha, Neb. - A "diehard" Chicago Blackhawks fan and animal lover, Page was looking forward to returning home after his time serving in the Marine Corps, based out of Pendleton, Cal., his family said in a statement.

"To his younger siblings, he was their favorite jungle gym and to his friends, he was a genuinely happy guy that you could always count on," they said. "After finishing his enlistment, Daegan planned to come home and go to a local trade school, possibly to become a lineman."

Page was raised in Omaha, where he was a member of the Boy Scouts. He joined the Marine Corps in 2019 after he graduated from Millard South High School, according to the statement.

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

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said he was "heartbroken" to learn of Page's death.

"Corporal Page is an American hero who gave the last full measure of devotion," said Bacon in a statement. "He served his country honorably, and his service will never be in vain."

- María Luisa Paúl

Published : August 28, 2021