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JACKSON, Wyo. – This text is a part of a Fox Information Digital sequence inspecting the results of the U.S. navy withdrawal from Afghanistan one 12 months in the past this week.
Lance Cpl. Rylee James McCollum purchased a stuffed tiger whereas deployed in Jordan and slept with it each night time. The Marine, excited to be a father, purchased it as a present for his soon-to-be-born daughter.
“He took a rash and a crack for sleeping with a stuffed animal,” Rylee’s father, Jim McCollum, instructed Fox Information. “Nevertheless it meant one thing to him.”
The tiger made it dwelling safely, however Rylee, 20, did not. He was one of many 13 U.S. service members killed within the Aug. 26., 2021, suicide bombing on the Kabul airport in the course of the Afghanistan evacuation.
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His daughter Levi was born 18 days later.
‘There was a swagger’
Rylee knew he wished to be a Marine ever since he was 4 years previous, his household instructed Fox Information.
“It was by no means, ‘I need to be a Marine. I hope I change into a Marine,’” Jim mentioned. “It was, ‘I will be a Marine.’”
His sister Roice, 23, mentioned “he talked about it his complete life.”
Rylee, born and raised in Jackson, Wyoming, all the time marched to the beat of his personal drum with a pointy wit and cheeky humorousness.
“There’s numerous Rylee-isms on the market, some acceptable, some not a lot,” one other sister, Cheyenne, 27, instructed Fox Information. “He was so sensible, and it acquired him into numerous bother. However he all the time knew what to say to get out of bother.”
Jim mentioned Rylee had many aspects and that his son may come off as “very abrasive.” Actually, “he was a sort, caring, loving, simply lovely child. However you needed to be inside his circle to know that.”
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Rylee started wrestling across the identical time he began saying he’d change into a Marine. His dedication to the game had a profound impact on him.
“Wrestling was his life,” Jim mentioned. “You noticed him change into who he was, who he was going to be.”
He additionally had an affinity for U.S. historical past.
“He knew each conflict, each battle, each gun, each skirmish we ever had, each president,” Jim mentioned. “That is one in all my favourite reminiscences of him, simply how engaged he was and simply the way it all intertwines and put him to the place the place he was when he died.”
On Feb. 26, 2019, Rylee’s 18th birthday, Jim acquired a name from his son asking his dad to come back to Jackson Gap Excessive College to signal enlistment papers.
“I dropped all the things,” Jim mentioned. “Fairly proud second for me.”
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The impact that becoming a member of the Marines had on Rylee was evident.
“You might simply see, the chest was out, chin was out,” Jim mentioned, recalling his son’s commencement from boot camp. “There was a swagger, for lack of a greater phrase.”
“He completed one thing that he wished to do, which he all the time discovered a option to do, however this one actually mattered to him,” Jim added.
Regardless of his household and pals’ efforts to persuade him in any other case, Rylee was dedicated to becoming a member of the infantry.
Rylee acquired married in on Valentine’s Day in 2021. Quickly after, he was despatched to Jordan for his first deployment.
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Rylee broke his telephone in Jordan, so contact with dwelling was sporadic. His household would search for the inexperienced dot subsequent to his identify on Fb indicating he was on-line to know that he was okay. Generally he’d borrow somebody’s telephone to name or would video chat with a laptop computer.
Twice, Jim missed group calls with Rylee and his daughters due to work.
A kind of was the final time Cheyenne spoke along with her brother earlier than he was despatched to Kabul.
“I chatted with him for like 10 minutes, simply form of BSing and telling him I miss him, and I like him,” she mentioned, starting to choke up. Then she realized they need to add Jim and Roice to the decision.
Roice joined briefly earlier than shedding service, however Jim declined the decision on account of work. He mentioned lacking that final name is his one remorse.
“It was like, ‘I’ll catch him subsequent time,'” Jim instructed Fox Information. “Properly, there by no means was a subsequent time.”
“I ought to have stopped working. What’s extra necessary?” he continued. “Hindsight, man, I ought to have answered that decision.”
The McCollums watched the withdrawal from Afghanistan unfold in real-time. The sinking feeling of their intestine grew every day.
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Jim may inform one thing would go incorrect in the course of the evacuation. He mentioned it was evident that the state of affairs was a “trainwreck” after seeing Afghans fall off planes leaving the runway.
“It was a hell of a activity that was put in entrance of them,” Jim instructed Fox Information. “Then you definitely begin to get a grasp of how determined state of affairs was … main proper as much as the day of the explosion.”
Lower than 24 hours after the ISIS-Ok terrorist detonated a suicide bomb on the Hamid Karzai Worldwide Airport, Marines confirmed as much as the McCollum dwelling to share the information about their son.
Nonetheless, Jim mentioned “Rylee would have executed the identical factor 100 instances over with out query.”
“I might have inspired him a thousand instances over,” he added.
Levi, nearing her first birthday, stays a vibrant gentle for Rylee’s household.
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“She’s Rylee’s mini-me, and he or she is completely lovely,” Jim instructed Fox Information. “I can have a look at her eyes, and I see Rylee the boy, and I see Rylee the person in that little lady.”
“I need her to know who her dad was. Good, dangerous and in any other case,” he continued. “The humorous tales, what an excellent man he was, what an excellent father he was going to be.”
Rylee’s identify is inscribed on a memorial on the Jackson Gap city middle. College students from the native highschool painted a rock adorning the bottom for every member of the McCollum household.
Jim visits daily to speak to his son.
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The Gold Star Father mentioned he’d be sure that not one of the 13 service members killed in the course of the Afghanistan evacuation can be forgotten.
“Let the world keep in mind: they weren’t simply Marines and Military and Navy,” he instructed Fox Information. His t-shirt was styled like a Marine’s and had “US13” printed on it.
“They have been all younger youngsters,” Jim mentioned. “Completely lovely folks.”