During a Friday afternoon memorial ceremony, the Army’s psychological operations community paid its final respects to one of the victims of the Aug. 26 suicide bombing targeting the U.S.-led evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss, a psychological operations NCO, was part of Bravo Company, 9th Psychological Operations Battalion, 8th Psychological Operations Group.
He died along with 11 Marines and a Navy corpsman when an ISIS suicide attack targeted refugee screening points at the HKIA’s Abbey Gate.
Knauss, who hailed from the small town of Corryton, northeast of Knoxville, Tennessee, is survived by his wife, Alena, who spoke with CNN last week about her husband.
He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday in a private ceremony.
In Friday’s livestreamed memorial service, his superiors and teammates remembered him as a talented, promising young soldier and leader.
Knauss’ first sergeant said he followed the unofficial, number one rule of special operations — always look cool.
First Sgt. Michael Dean said he met Knauss during an assessment event after returning from a tour with another unit.
Aspiring PSYOP soldiers must attend a selection course to join one of the active-duty Army’s psychological operations battalions. But to be selected for 9th Battalion, which supports elite special mission unit operations worldwide, requires a second internal assessment and selection process.
“I knew almost everyone in the company, but there was this young soldier that was evaluating candidates who stood out, and I didn’t know who he was,” Dean said. “I watched him persistently give quality feedback to the candidates after they finished...I asked him why he gave such quality feedback to the candidates, since this was only an assessment.”
“He looked at me and said, ‘Just because they’re being assessed doesn’t mean we can’t use it as an opportunity to teach. They’re still PSYOPers,’” the first sergeant recalled. “That’s a testament to his character, and as a person. He cared so much about doing things well that he was willing to make others better, even if they never worked together again.”
Knauss’ battalion commander, Lt. Col. Daniel Kinsella, described him as “that perfect mix of brains and brawn.”
“When we got word of this mission, Ryan was the first to raise his hand and say, ‘I will go — send me,’” Kinsella recalled. “He was playing a direct part in saving American lives and getting them to safety. He was living out his life’s purpose, and making a difference, and helping people.”
One of Knauss’ teammates, who requested that Army Times withhold his name, described his friend as an eclectic, lovable warrior who would listen to Theodore Roosevelt speeches before ruck marches.
“Why did it have to be the absolute best of us?” asked the teammate. “Many of the people in here, myself included, would have given anything for it to be us instead of him.”
“It would not have changed a single decision if he had known what was to come,” Nelson said. “For all of us that really knew him, we are better men for it...Ryan, your name will always be remembered.”
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.