Young Dad-to-Be Was Among 13 US Troops Killed in Afghanistan

Eli Stone, left, and Rylee McCollum, at Christmas
This Dec. 2019, photo provided by Regi Stone shows Eli Stone, left, and Rylee McCollum, at Christmas in Stone's house in Jackson, Wyo. (Regi Stone via AP)

A young husband with a child on the way who wanted to teach history one day and another man who always wanted to serve in the military were among the 13 U.S. troops killed in a horrific suicide bombing at Afghanistan's Kabul airport, which also claimed the lives of more than 100 Afghans.

As military personnel were going through the grim task of notifying the troops' next of kin, some of their names emerged Friday before the government formally announced them. 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. The White House said President Joe Biden will look for opportunities to honor the servicemembers who lost their lives.

Rylee McCollum, a Marine from Wyoming whose wife is expecting a baby in three weeks, was among those killed, his sister, Cheyenne McCollum, told The Associated Press.

“He was a Marine before he knew he was allowed to be a Marine,” Cheyenne McCollum said Friday. “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.”

“Anybody who met him just loved him,” she added. “He was so excited to be a dad and he was going to be a great dad.” She said her brother wanted to be a history teacher and a wrestling coach once he completed 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,” she said. Another sister, Roice McColllum, told the Casper Star Tribune that her brother was on his first deployment when the evacuation in Afghanistan began.

Regi Stone, the father of one of Rylee McCollum’s friends, described McCollum as “a good kid,” who was resilient, smart and courageous.

Stone read a note that his wife, Kim, sent to their son Eli Stone, who is also in the military and deployed elsewhere: “I remember standing in our kitchen and telling y’all to run the other way if you had to go in first. And both of you saying, ‘If we die doing this, we die doing what we love.’ I never knew that would come true, so hold onto all the great memories. I know he would want all of his brothers to stay strong and fight hard.”

Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz, 20, was one of the other Marines who died in the attack. His father, Mark Schmitz, told KMOX Radio that the Marines came to his home in Wentzville, Missouri, at 2:40 a.m. Friday to give him the grim news.

Schmitz said his son, who grew up in the St. Louis area, was among a group of Marines sent back to Afghanistan to assist with evacuation efforts.

“This 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,” Schmitz said of his son. “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.”

Lance Corporal David Lee Espinoza, a 20-year-old Marine from Laredo, Texas, was also killed, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said Friday.

The congressman's press secretary, Dana Youngentob, said Pentagon representatives visited Cuellar’s Washington office to inform him of Espinoza's death. Cuellar’s office also received an official death notice from the Pentagon.

In a statement, Cuellar said Espinoza “embodied the values of America: grit, dedication, service, and valor. 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.”

Cuellar concluded, “The brave never die. Mr. Espinoza is a hero.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at her briefing Friday that Biden would look for “any opportunity” to honor those who died in service to their country. She did not rule out a possible visit by Biden to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the remains of servicemembers killed in action are returned.

Psaki said Biden would not reach out to any of the families until the Pentagon finishes notifying next of kin. She said it then is up to the families to decide whether they want to take the president’s call.

“It’s important to note that this may be the worst day of their lives,” she said.


Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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