Just days before she was killed in a suicide bomb attack outside the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee used a photo of her cradling an Afghan baby in her arms to deliver a simple message: "I love my job."
Gee's father, Richard Herrera, reflected on his daughter's sacrifice on TODAY Monday after she was one of 13 U.S. troops killed in an attack on Aug. 26, just five days before the U.S. government's deadline for fully withdrawing from Afghanistan.
"She's my hero," Herrera told Erin McLaughlin from the family's home in Roseville, California. "She's a warrior."
The service members were guarding Hamid Karzai International Airport as thousands of Americans and Afghans evacuated after the government takeover by the Taliban.
Gee shared the touching photo of herself holding the baby on Instagram on Aug. 20 with the caption of "I love my job."
Herrera first saw the photo on television before the bombing and had swelled with pride as he shared it with family and friends. Less than a week later, his daughter was gone. She was 23 years old.
"It broke me for a while, and it's like a wave now," he said. "The emotions are up and down. It's hit me hard."
Gee was one of two female Marines killed in the attack, along with Sgt. Johanny Rosario from Massachusetts. Gee's good friend and roommate, Sgt. Mallory Harrison, remembered her "other half" in a Facebook post on Aug. 27.
"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. "How her last breath was taken doing what she loved—helping people—at HKIA in Afghanistan. Then there was an explosion. And just like that, she’s gone.
"My best friend. 23 years old. Gone," she continued. "I find peace knowing that she left this world doing what she loved. She was a Marine’s Marine. She cared about people. She loved fiercely. She was a light in this dark world. She was my person."
Another one of her fellow Marines, Michael Black, shared another touching photo of Gee holding an Afghan baby in a remembrance of her on Facebook.
"This pic says it all of the HEART she had!" he wrote.
Towns across America have honored the 13 service members who were killed, from Massachusetts to Missouri to California. Many of those who died were in their early 20s, barely born at the time of the 9/11 attacks that led to the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
Their deaths are being mourned as President Joe Biden warns about further attacks with the deadline for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan looming on Tuesday. Biden and first lady Jill Biden attended an event on Sunday to honor the 13 who were killed as their remains returned to the U.S. and meet with their families.
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