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 at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam. "She was someone who was always able to bring a smile out from everybody else, too."
A few days later, the laughter faded when several of 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 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, is a retired Navy officer. Her sister, Natasha, currently serves in the Navy, while the youngest of her two brothers, Damien, recently joined the Army. Devin wanted to serve, and as she showed during her stellar high school track career in Cohocton, N.Y., nothing would prevent her from reaching the finish line.
"She was very strong-willed," Ed Snyder 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."
On June 4, 2011, the dreams of Snyder and three 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 begins for five American families, something "huge" is comforting the Snyders. When thousands filled the streets of Cohocton to salute Devin, two grieving parents realized 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 recent 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 loved by the country she died for.