Who they were: Honoring the 13 fallen U.S. Service Members killed in the Kabul attacks

by Vianca Rodriguez

As the United States copes with the aftermath of the devastating terrorist attacks on the outskirts of the Kabul airport in Afghanistan that tragically killed 13 U.S. service members and wounded 18 more, the Department of Defense on Saturday confirmed and released the identities of our fallen heroes.

The 18 wounded U.S. troops recently arrived to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany to receive treatment for their sustained injuries.

Among the fallen troops are 11 U.S. Marines, one U.S. Army soldier, and one U.S. Navy corpsman.

The Department of Defense (DOD) confirmed the identities of the fallen troops on August 26, 2021 as follows:

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin “Taylor” Hoover
(Source: Jeremy Soto via Facebook)

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, issued a statement on Friday honoring Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin Taylor Hoover’s life and sending condolences to the Hoover family, stating “burying a child is a grief no parent should bear.”

The senator described him as a “Marine from Utah who gave the last full measure of devotion in Afghanistan” who died “completing the mission to save his countrymen and civilians from evil and oppression,” exemplifying the Marine Corps motto by “living and dying always faithful.”

In an exclusive to Washington Post, Hoover Jr.’s father described him as “the most-loving, giving, understanding person you could ever meet.” Some Marines told him they considered him “one heck of a leader.”

Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts

Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo
(Source: Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade via Facebook)

As a member of the U.S. Marine Corps Female Engagement Team and the Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Sgt. Rosario-Pichardo was honored by her unit as recently as May for successfully managing day-to-day administrative functions within her unit as a Supply Chief.

Kendrys Vasquez, the mayor of Lawrence, Mass., said he had been in touch with the Rosario family, who, although they asked for privacy during this time, requested that their “loved one be recognized as the hero that she was.”

Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California

Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee was witnessed cradling and soothing a baby in her arms.
(Source: Department of Defense, U.S. Central Command Public Affairs)

Sgt. Nicole L. Gee was a maintenance technician in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and was assigned to assist women and girls trying to flee the Taliban at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

Her last post on Instagram was of herself in front of a U.S. aircraft in what appears to be the process of escorting Afghan refugees onto the plane. Her caption stated “Location: Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan. Escorting evacuees onto the bird” with a white heart emoji at the end of the sentence.

A close friend to Sgt. Gee shared a tribute in her honor on Facebook Friday evening. Mallory Harrison described Gee as a “Marine’s Marine. She cared about people. She loved fiercely. She was a light in this dark world.”

Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, California

Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez
(Source: Riverside County Sheriff’s Department/Reuters)

Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez was planning on becoming a deputy sheriff post-deployment, a move intended to follow in his father’s footsteps, according to CBS Los Angeles. Cpl. Lopez was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines unit.

The Riverside Sheriff’s Association released a statement on behalf of Lopez’s parents, stating: ““We are heartbroken to hear this sad news about Hunter, who chose to follow a life of service, selflessness, courage and sacrifice, like his parents,” the association said.

The association added “Like his parents who serve our community, being a Marine to Hunter wasn’t a job; it was a calling. He loved his family, and as we grieve for Hunter and his fellow Marines taken from us too soon, there are simply no words to express how deeply he will be missed — Semper Fi.”

Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska

Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan Page
(Source: Abbie Petersen – KETV via Twitter)

Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan Page was described by his family as “proud to serve as a member of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment at Marine Corps Base Camp in Pendleton, California.” He enjoyed hobbies such as hunting and hockey.

Cpl. Page had desires to attend trade school to become a lineman after finishing his enlistment.

“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,” his family stated.

Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana

Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto Sanchez
(Source: Pharos Tribune)

Logansport Mayor Chris Martin released a statement paying tribute to Cpl. Sanchez, saying he feels “heartbroken,” adding “this young man had not yet even turned 30 and still had his entire life ahead of him. Any plans he may have had for his post-military life were given in sacrifice due to the heart he exhibited in putting himself into harm’s way to safeguard the lives of others.”

Similarly, Indiana Sen. Mike Braun and Rep. Jim Baird expressed their condolences to the Sanchez family via social media. Rep Baird described Sanchez as a Marine who “bravely answered the call to serve his nation.”

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

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza
(Photo: Twitter)

Marine Corps Lance Corporal David L. Espinoza was stationed in Kabul. His mother, Elizabeth Holguin, described her son as a “hero” that always desired to serve his country becoming a Marine and enlisted soon after his high school graduation, the Washington Post reported.

Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff to honor the slain service-members, especially Lance Cpl. Espinoza, who was a native of Rio Bravo in Laredo, Texas.

“These heroes should never be forgotten,” Gov. Abbott stated.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Missouri

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz on deployment
(Source: Facebook)

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz was originally deployed to Jordan but was sent to Afghanistan to assist with evacuations where he lost his life in the Thursday suicide bombings in Kabul.

In an exclusive interview with a local Missouri station, his father stated that being a Marine “was something he always wanted to do and I never seen a young man train as hard as he did to be the best soldier he could be.”

As he spoke highly of his son, Schmitz broke into tears when he said “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.” He added, in frustration, “Be afraid of our leadership or lack thereof. Pray every day for the soldiers that are putting their lives at risk, doing what they love which is protecting all of us,” Schmitz said.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyoming

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum
(Source: Twitter)

Marine Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum was expecting a baby within the next three weeks with his newlywed spouse, according to his sister, Roice McCollum. The deployment to Kabul was his first deployment.

“He wanted to be a Marine his whole life and carried around his rifle in his diapers and cowboy boots,” Roice McCollum said. “He was determined to be in infantry … 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.”

“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,” his sister noted.

His father described him as a “beautiful soul” and was heartbroken when he received the news of his son’s death by Marines at his doorstep at 3:30 in the morning.

Gov. Mark Gordon announced that all American and Wyoming flags in the state would be flown at half-staff through Monday evening in honor of the fallen soldiers.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, California

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola
(Source: David Merola via Twitter)

Completing his first overseas mission as a Marine, Lance Cpl. Merola was only a few weeks away from returning home to Rancho Cucamonga when he lost his life in Kabul.

Merola was stationed helping evacuate Afghan children. His grandmother, Clarinda Matsuoka, told the Wall Street Journal that although he loved technology and dreamt of becoming an engineer, he enlisted because of his family ties to the military and influence his great-grandfathers, who served in the Korean War, held.

“It’s kind of in his blood; he wanted to serve his country. It’s all he talked about in high school,” his grandmother said.

His mother, Cheryl Merola, told CBS News, “He was one of the best kids ever. Kind. Loving. Giving to every single person. He would give anything for anybody.”

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, California

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui
(Source: New York Post)

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui’s father was the first in the family to hear the news no parent should ever have to receive on Thursday night. “I’m still in shock. I haven’t been able to grasp everything that’s going on,” Steve Nikoui told The Daily Beast. “He was born the same year it started, and ended his life with the end of this war,” he added.

In addition, Lance Cpl. Nikoui’s father also told the outlet that he felt disappointed in the way the Biden administration has been handling the crisis in Afghanistan. “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.”

Navy Corpsman and Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio

Navy Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak
(Source: U.S. Navy)

Navy Corpsman Maxton Soviak was one of the first service members that the public learned died heroically in the horrific bombing attacks in Kabul. On June 10, Corpsman Soviak made his final post on Instagram surrounded by fellow sailors that he captioned “It’s kill or be killed, definitely trynna be on the kill side.”

On Friday, Marilyn Soviak, who identified herself as his sister, shared a statement regarding his death on Instagram: “I’ve never been one for politics and I’m not going to start now. What I will say is that my beautiful, intelligent, beat-to-the-sound of his own drum, annoying, charming baby brother was killed yesterday helping to save lives,” Marilyn Soviak wrote.

“He was a f–king medic. there to help people. and now he is gone and my family will never be the same. there is a large Maxton sized hole that will never be filled,” she added. “he was just a kid. we are sending kids over there to die. kids with families that now have holes just like ours. i’m not one for praying but damn 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.”

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss
(Photo: Army 1st Special Forces Command official page on Twitter)

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss was a member of the 9th Battalion, 8th Psychological Operations Group. According to The Washington Post, this was his second deployment to Afghanistan after his first one in 2017 as an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division.

He leaves behind a wife in Corryton, where local officials in Knox County paid tribute to the fallen soldier through social media. “As heart wrenching as those events were, it is even more difficult when it hits home like this,” Knox County, Tenn., Mayor Glenn Jacobs wrote on Twitter. “Ryan and his fellow service members represent the best of America — patriots willing to give up their lives in defense of our great nation.”

Pentagon Press Secretary, John Kirby, confirmed that the remains of all 13 U.S. service members are currently en route to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for proper burial ceremonies to take place. The DOD formally identified all 13 fallen troops in a press release on Saturday.

The tragedy conducted by ISIS-K was the single deadliest strike against U.S. troops in Afghanistan since August 2011.

All service members appeared to share one characteristic and goal in common – as young as they were, they had an enduring love for the country they served. They all selflessly made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure thousands of American citizens, as well as Afghan allies and civilians alike, escaped to safety from the grips of the terrorist organizations surrounding them.

Most were just babies when the horrific September 11 attacks took place and now they are considered among the last casualties as part of America’s “longest war” combatting terrorism overseas.

At RSBN, we want our readers and viewers to know just how grateful and thankful we are for all of our U.S. military service members, veterans, and allies, who, day in and day out, put themselves in harm’s way to ensure that our rights and freedoms are continuously preserved. We are heartbroken amid the tragic events that took place in Afghanistan and sincerely hope that all family members and loved ones who are emotionally afflicted by these tragic losses can find peace and strength during this time.

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