The grieving father of a U.S. Marine killed in a suicide attack at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul just days after she shared the now iconic photo of her cradling an Afghan baby described his daughter in a heartbreaking new interview as his “hero” and a true “warrior.”
“She’s a hero. She’s a warrior,” Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee’s father, Richard Herrera, told NBC’s “TODAY” in a recent interview from his home in Roseville, Calif. On Aug. 20, Gee had shared a photo to Instagram of her cradling an Afghan baby at the airport in Kabul, captioning the image, “I love my job.”
Filled with pride, Herrera quickly shared the photo with friends and family. Six days later, Gee was one of the 13 service members killed on Aug. 26 when a bomb went off outside Abbey Gate. Asked by NBC’s Erin McLaughlin what he sees in that photo now, Herrera answered “Just my baby. My baby.”
“It broke me for a while,” Herrera said of his daughter’s death. “It hit me hard.”
YOUNG WIDOW OF ARMY SERGEANT KILLED IN KABUL SAYS ‘IF HE KNEW THE OUTCOME, HE WOULD DO IT AGAIN’
Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California, was a maintenance technician with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Brig. Gen. Forrest C. Poole III, commanding general of 2nd Marine Logistics Group, said his unit mourned “the immense loss of Sgt. Gee,” and the others.
Sgt. Mallory Harrison, who lived with Gee for three years, wrote about how hard the death hit her.
“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 beaming with her meritorious promotion to sergeant.
Harrison said her generation of Marines hears war stories from veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, but “those stories to sound like something so distant—something that you feel like you’re never going to experience since you joined the Marine Corps during peacetime.”
“Then bad people do bad things, and all of a sudden, the peaceful float you were on turns into you going to Afghanistan & for some, never coming back. It 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.
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“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.”
Eleven Marines, one Navy sailor and one Army soldier were among the dead, while 18 other U.S. service members were wounded in the 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 suicide attack also claimed the lives of more than 160 Afghans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.