A viral photo of Nicole Gee shows her cradling an Afghan baby days before the suicide bomb attack
Nicole L Gee
Nicole Gee
| Credit: Nicole L. Gee/Instagram

Nicole Gee was a "hero" to many.

The 23-year-old Marine was killed in the attack outside the Afghanistan capital airport on Thursday that left 13 U.S. service members and scores more civilians dead.

Her father, Richard Herrera, touched on her legacy in an interview on Today on Monday. "She's my hero. She's a warrior," he said.

Gee went viral after she posted a photo on Aug. 20 as she cradled an Afghan baby. "I love my job," she captioned the powerful image.

Her father said on Today he first saw the photo on television and proudly shared it with other friends and family.

Less than a week later, Gee had died in the attack against Americans and Afghans at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

"It broke me for a while, and it's like a wave now," her father said. "The emotions are up and down. It's hit me hard."

In a White House speech Thursday after the attack, President Joe Biden praised the service members who were safeguarding ongoing evacuation operations in Kabul amid the U.S. withdrawal.

The president called them "heroes who have been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others."

2100405-M-GJ479-122, Atlantic Ocean, April 5, 2021- U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Nicole Gee (left middle), a maintenance technician with 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), awaits the launch of an MV-22B Osprey during an en route care exercise aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), April 5, 2021. 24th MEU, embarked with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, is forward deployed in the U.S. 6th fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.
Nicole Gee
| Credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sergeant Mark E Morrow Jr

Gee was remembered by several colleagues and friends across social media.

Her friend and roommate, Sgt. Mallory Harrison, posted a tribute on Aug. 27.

"My very best friend, my person, my sister forever. My other half. We were boots together, Corporals together, & then Sergeants together," she wrote on Facebook. "Roommates for over 3 years now, from the barracks at MOS school to our house here. We've been attached at the hip from the beginning."

Harrison continued, "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. 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. I find peace knowing that she left this world doing what she loved," Gee's dear friend concluded. "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 Gee's friends, Sgt. Landon Workman, said in a statement sent to PEOPLE by the Marines: "In Afghanistan Sergeant Gee would work multiple shifts a day just to be around the children and families being evacuated. She was the most loving and caring individual I've ever met, she was the 'mom' of any group she was a part of and had a knack for brightening anyone's day."

Lt. Col. Patrick Williams, the commanding officer of Gee's battalion, said in his own statement that she was "a shining example of what a Sergeant of Marines should be — mature, enthusiastic, and courageous. Her passing weighs heavy on our entire battalion."

Gee was promoted to Sergeant earlier this month, an Instagram post shows.

Officials believe U.S. forces were targeted in a suicide attack on Thursday by extremists with a branch of the Islamic State who oppose both America and the Taliban.

On Monday, after some $2 trillion, 2,400 American service members and 47,000 civilians killed; after 19 years and 328 days — almost older than the youngest of the last troops who died in the last days of fighting — the U.S. withdrew from the Afghan capital of Kabul, ending the country's longest-ever military operation.