U.S. Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee loved her job.
She said so herself in an Aug. 9 Instagram post alongside a photo of her holding a baby in Kabul amid the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, just weeks before the U.S. military was set to end its two-decade presence.
“Escorting evacuees onto the bird,” the 23-year-old from Sacramento, California wrote in another post at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, where dozens of people can be seen boarding a plane.
But on Thursday, Gee’s job cost her her life, alongside a dozen other U.S. service members, when a suicide bomber detonated himself outside the airport’s gates.
Several of her friends told The Daily Beast they were devastated but not surprised to learn Gee died trying to help people, doing the job she loved most.
“She was a badass,” Lance Cpl. Joyner Seaman, who trained with Gee in 2018 at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, told The Daily Beast. “She would outrun and outperform most male Marines in the physical categories during our training.”
“She was truly a badass individual—and more importantly, she was the nicest person. She was a Marine’s Marine.”
He added that one of Gee’s best qualities was that “she could not avoid helping others.”
The Department of Defense on Saturday identified Gee as one of the 13 U.S. troops who died while helping to evacuate non-combatant Afghans and Americans as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. At least 170 people were killed in the blast, and scores more were injured.
Two women were among the 13 U.S. troop deaths: Gee and Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo, 25, from Lawrence, Massachusetts.
Gee was stationed at Camp Lejuene in North Carolina, in the U.S. Marines’ Combat Logistics Battalion 24.
She signed up, in part, because her husband was already in the Corps—but her knack for helping people naturally drew her to the job.
“She thought it was a good idea to do it herself and it was one of the best decisions,” Seaman said, adding that Gee quickly moved up the ranks due to her dedication and talent.
According to her Instagram, Gee had been overseas since June. Earlier this month, she had been promoted to sergeant in Kuwait, before being deployed to Afghanistan just days later.
Then, on Aug. 15, Kabul fell to the Taliban.
As thousands of American citizens and Afghans scrambled to get out of the country before the Aug. 31 withdrawal of U.S. forces, Gee was stationed at Kabul airport’s Abbey gate, helping screen the mobs of evacuees trying to get onto flights. It was here that a suicide bomber, who had somehow made it through Taliban checks at the airport’s outer perimeter, was able to detonate an explosive vest.
“This withdrawal was conducted improperly,” Seaman said, adding that while he politically leans conservative, he would have the same opinions about the operation no matter who was in office. “There were veteran military leaders who should have known better.”
“The biggest mistake was pulling out military assets first [before all evacuees and troops were removed]. It was a logistical and tactical planning error,” he said.
The desire to help others ran deep for Gee. One of her neighbors on the North Carolina base, Alexandra Stowers, described Gee as “a phenomenal person” who “was the type of neighbor that stopped by on her way to Walmart to see if we needed anything.”
“She always had a positive attitude. Was always in the gym working on herself,” Stowers told The Daily Beast.
Joe Stowers, Alex’s husband and one of Gee’s fellow Marines, called her “the ultimate nurturer.”
“She always came by and took care of us and never had an issue with anyone. A gentle kind hardworking person down to the bone. One of a kind, and an outstanding Marine. Always worked hard and never complained,” he said.
Rachel Ortiz, another friend, told The Daily Beast that Gee was “an amazing human being and anyone who met her was one lucky person. She had the ability to make everyone in the room smile. She will be missed by everyone.”
All but one of the U.S. service men and women who died on Thursday were in their 20s, including Sgt. Rosariopichardo, who was assigned to the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
“We are heartbroken by the death of the servicemen and women due to the bombing in Kabul this week. I and the City of Lawrence are particularly saddened that one of those brave souls was a daughter of our City,” Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
“I have been in touch with the family of the Lawrencian killed in action to extend mine and my family’s most sincere condolences and offer all of the aid that my administration can provide as they grieve this great loss. At this time, the family’s most immediate wish is to be given privacy and that their loved one be recognized as the hero that she was.”
While the withdrawal and Thursday’s attack have left some young Marines “bewildered,” Seaman insisted it has also motivated his fellow servicemen.
“This is what we signed up for. It’s surreal but this is motivating [us] to be better,” he said.