Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum was a baby when the 9/11 attacks led to the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. On Friday, with his own baby expected next month, the Marine from Wyoming was identified as one of the 13 U.S. service personnel killed during a bombing attack in Afghanistan’s capital city.
McCollum, 20, became one of the first American victims to be publicly identified in the attack at the Kabul airport Thursday, which also killed at least 170 Afghans, The New York Times reported. His death was confirmed to the newspaper by his father, and also by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, who posted the news in a tweet.
McCollum was sent to Afghanistan on his first deployment when the U.S. evacuation began, his sister, Roice McCollum, told the Casper Star-Tribune. According to his sister, Rylee McCollum was manning a checkpoint at Hamid Karzai International Airport when the bombing occurred, the newspaper reported.
McCollum, who was born in February 2001, was from Bondurant, a small community about 45 minutes from Jackson, the Star-Tribune reported. Roice McCollum said he was expecting a baby in three weeks, the newspaper reported.
Rylee McCollum was a former student of Jackson Hole High School, a 2019 graduate of Summit Innovations School and a high school wrestler, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported.
“He wanted to be a Marine his whole life and carried around his rifle in his diapers and cowboy boots,” Roice McCollum told the Star-Tribune. “He was determined to be in (the) 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. His joke and wit brought so much joy.”
Rylee McCollum joined the Marine Corps on his 18th birthday, East Idaho News reported. He was sent to Jordan for his first deployment and assigned to Afghanistan two weeks ago, the newspaper reported.
The Marine got married before his deployment in April, another sister, Cheyenne McCollum, told the newspaper.
“He was going to be the best dad. We don’t know (the gender of the baby),” Cheyenne McCollum told East Idaho News. “They decided to keep it a surprise. We hope it’s a boy. I had a baby in 2019, and he just loved her so much.”
Rylee McCollum’s wife is on a base in San Diego, according to East Idaho News.
“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,” Roice McCollum told the Star-Tribune. “Making us stronger, kinder, teaching us to love deeper.”
In a statement, the Teton County School District, where Rylee McCollum attended high school, released a statement saying the agency was “heartbroken.”
McCollum’s father told the Times he had been tracking his son with a messaging app that pinpointed him and showed he was online with a green dot.
After hearing the news about the attack, Jim McCollum checked the app and messaged his son: “Hey man, you good?”
The dot was gone, the newspaper reported.
“In my heart yesterday afternoon, I knew,” Jim McCollum told the Times. “He was a beautiful soul.”
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