U.S. House passes McClain measure awarding medal to 13 killed in Kabul

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The U.S. House passed bipartisan legislation by voice vote Monday evening that would posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 13 American service members killed in the August suicide bomb attack in Kabul. 

The measure, introduced by Republican freshman Rep. Lisa McClain of Bruce Township, has 323 co-sponsors in the House, including 10 from Michigan — five Democrats and five Republicans. It is McClain's first measure to pass the House.

A Marine Corps carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Marine Corps Humberto Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Ind., Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021, at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

McClain said in an interview that seeing the bill on its way to adoption is "bitter sweet," but she's grateful the House is taking it up so swiftly.

"We wanted to do something to honor the fallen men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice — something to keep their memory alive," McClain said. "With all the ugliness sometimes that goes on in politics, I just thought this would be a positive thing to do."

McClain said she hopes the measure quickly passes the Senate on a unanimous basis and that President Joe Biden will sign it. 

Her bill notes that Aug. 26 was the highest single-day death toll of the war in Afghanistan for the United States in more than a decade.

In total, the attack by the Islamic State affiliate ISIS-K at the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport killed as many as 200 people and wounded hundreds of others, including 14 American troops. 

More than 5,000 U.S. troops were deployed to help with the evacuation of more than 100,000 people after the Taliban swiftly took control of Afghanistan in August amid the U.S. military's withdraw. 

McClain said she's met with some of the fallen service members’ parents and families.

"It makes them feel good, for lack of better words. It’s a nice way to honor them," she said. "Quite honestly, it’s hard. It’s still fresh in their hearts. To know their memory and legacy will live on, they’re extremely grateful to know that their loved ones didn’t pass in vain, and that they’re appreciated.

"In a time when there’s so much partisanship, it really makes you feel good to know that not everything is partisan," she added.

U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, speaks on the House floor on Monday, April 19, 2021.

The day before the attack, the U.S. State Department had warned of a “credible” threat at the Kabul airport, urging people to leave the area. Those gathered at the gates were hoping to make one of the last evacuation flights out of the country. 

"The American service members went above and beyond the call of duty to protect citizens of the United States and our allies to ensure they are brought to safety in an extremely dangerous situation as the Taliban regained control over Afghanistan," the bill says. 

"The American service members exemplified extreme bravery and valor against armed enemy combatants. The American service members dedicated their lives and their heroism deserves great honor."

McClain's measure also names each of the 13 dead, which included 11 Marines, one soldier and one sailor: 

  • Navy Corpsman Maxton Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio
  • Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, 20, of Norco, California
  • Lance Cpl. David Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas
  • Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, 20, Jackson, Wyoming
  • Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, 20, of Wentzville, Missouri
  • Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, California 
  • Staff Sgt. Darin Taylor Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Cpl. Daegan William-Tyeler Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska
  • Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23, of Roseville, California
  • Cpl. Humberto Sanchez, 22, Logansport, Indiana
  • Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, California
  • Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, Lawrence, Massachusetts and
  • Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee

They were the first U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan since February 2020.

Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids Township, said the bill is an opportunity to honor the sacrifices of those who gave their lives keeping the gates at Kabul airport open, "ensuring that as many people as possible could get through and have a chance to get to safety and start a new life."

"Obviously, it's personal — not just being a military veteran, not just somebody who was at Kabul Airport during that period, but also who had personal connections to that unit," Meijer said. "I'm proud to be able to honor them and show them that Congress is grateful for their sacrifice."

Biden announced his decision in April to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and end the "forever war" that was launched after the Sept. 11 terror attacks by al-Qaida in 2001.

Biden said he wanted to see no more U.S. troops sacrifice themselves for a war that he no longer believed to be in the best interest of the United States or its allies.

If McClain's measure is enacted, the gold medal would be given to the Smithsonian Institution for display, with the intent that it would be displayed outside of Washington at times in locations associated with the 13 service members killed Aug. 26, according to the text.

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Steve Daines, R-Montana introduced a Senate companion to the bill  in September. 

President Joe Biden returns a salute as he and first lady Jill Biden arrive at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. Biden embarked on a solemn journey Sunday to honor and mourn the 13 U.S. troops killed in the suicide attack near the Kabul airport as their remains return to U.S. soil from Afghanistan.