STILLWATER, Okla. —
U.S. Army Sgt. Devin Snyder could always make her friends laugh, even during long patrols in northeastern Afghanistan. A week into her first overseas deployment, the 20-year-old military police officer was still doing what she loved most.
“She was always the first to smile,” Sgt. Jonathan Enlow said on June 11, 2011, at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam in Afghanistan. “She was someone who was always able to bring a smile out from everybody else, too.”
In April 2011, the laughter faded when several of Sgt. Snyder's fellow soldiers were wounded in a roadside bomb attack.
“She wasn't hurt, but I think it started making her see that it was truly dangerous,” the soldier's mother, Dineen Snyder, told The Unknown Soldiers. “Knowing those people wouldn't come back to her platoon ... it brought her down.”
While still agonizing for the friends injured in the April 4, 2011, attack, Snyder picked herself up.
“A few days later, she was upbeat again, and ready to do another mission,” her mom recalled.
But things weren't the same. During the rest of her deployment, Snyder worried that the sacrifices being made by her unit were being overlooked.
“She was worried that people weren't seeing how hard she worked,” the soldier's mother said.
Snyder, who joined the military after graduating high school, spent a lifetime surrounded by service. Her father, Ed Snyder, is a retired Navy officer. Devin wanted to serve, and as she showed during her stellar high school track career in Cohocton, New York, nothing would prevent her from reaching the finish line.
“She was very strong-willed,” Ed said. “She knew what she wanted.”
The clash of what this radiant, fun-loving soldier ultimately wanted out of life is fascinating, and reveals surprising similarities between Army fatigues and Snyder's favorite color: pink.
“She liked being a soldier,” her mom said. “But she also loved being a girly-girl, wearing her heels and carrying her purses.”
While admiring one of Snyder's pink handbags, you would undoubtedly notice the flowered tattoos covering the upper-half of her left arm. Upon returning from Afghanistan, the soldier wanted to fill the rest of that arm, and some of her right, before showing off her tattoos in magazines. At the same time, she would either stay in the Army and become a deception analyst, or head home to become a police officer.
“She was a go-getter all the time, even as a little kid,” Snyder's mom said. “When she wanted something, she went after it.”
Three years ago – on June 4, 2011 – the dreams of Snyder and three U.S. Army brothers in arms, Sgt. Christopher Bell, 21, Sgt. Joshua Powell, 28, and Spc. Robert Voakes, 21, tragically ended. The Pentagon said the four soldiers, all of whom served with the 793rd Military Police Battalion, were killed by an improvised explosive device planted by terrorists in Laghman province. The military said a civilian contractor, Brett Benton, 37, also died in the attack.
“It was the worst day of our lives,” Ed Snyder said.
“It was our worst nightmare ... it really was,” Dineen Snyder added.
As an unwanted chapter of unimaginable grief became reality for five American families, something “huge” was comforting the Snyders. When thousands filled the streets of Cohocton to salute Devin, the two grieving parents realized that their daughter was loved by more people than they could have imagined. Indeed, she and her fellow soldiers were noticed.
“It's such a tribute to her,” her mom said. “It makes me feel like she touched so many people, whether it was with her smile or a kind word.”
A 2011 trip to Alaska's Fort Richardson, where Snyder's relatives spent time with loved ones of the soldiers she died alongside, also helped the family carry on.
“Everybody is just trying to get through and find the new normal,” Dineen Snyder explained. “The four that were killed were a good team; they worked together and never had a bad word to say about each other.”
Somewhere, Sgt. Devin Snyder is once again laughing with her friends. Hopefully, she knows how much she is still loved by the country she died for.
Tom Sileo is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "BROTHERS FOREVER: The Enduring Bond Between a Marine and a Navy SEAL that Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice."