Rylee McCollum's family in Wyoming wasn't surprised in the least when he enlisted in the Marines after high school.
"He wanted to be a Marine his whole life and carried around his rifle in his diapers and cowboy boots," his sister, Roice McCollum, said in a statement. "He was determined to be in infantry and this was his first deployment."
Her 20-year-old brother was among 13 US service members killed Thursday in a suicide bombing during the evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. At least 20 US Marines were wounded, and more than 170 other people were killed.
McCollum, a lance corporal, had just been sent to Afghanistan to assist in the evacuation and was manning the checkpoint when the explosion occurred, she said.
"Rylee was an amazing, man with a passion for the Marines. He was a son, a brother, a husband and a father with a baby due in just 3 weeks," his sister said.
She said the family expected to receive McCollum's remains Monday, and funeral plans would follow, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon ordered all state and US flags lowered to half-staff through Monday to honor McCollum and the other fallen service members.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Rylee McCollum of Bondurant," the governor said on Twitter. "Jennie and I, along with all of Wyoming and the entire country thank Rylee for his service."
McCollum died 7,000 miles from his home in Bondurant, a rural community outside Jackson.
Regi Stone told the Casper Star-Tribune that his son, Eli, was good friends with Rylee and enlisted in the Marines around the same time. McCollum would often stay the weekend with their son before being called to boot camp, Stone said.
"They would blow in to have dinner, and we'd hang out and laugh. We might shoot guns on our property, you know, skeet or something," Stone said.
"They loved going to hang out with other friends, building a fire. ... He was just a lot of fun to be around. He was just a good, fun kid to have in the house."
McCollum attended Jackson Hole High School and graduated from Summit Innovations School, the Teton County School District said in a statement. The family said he was on the wrestling team in school.
"The entire TCSD family is heartbroken to share the news that 2019 TCSD graduate Rylee McCollum was one of the 13 American Marines killed in yesterday's bombings in Kabul, Afghanistan," the statement said "We honor and thank him for his service and are humbled by his ultimate sacrifice in protecting others."
McCollum's sister said he wanted to become a history teacher and a wrestling coach when he finished serving in the military.
"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. Making us stronger, kinder, teaching us to love deeper. We love you Rylee," she said.
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