This article is part a Fox News Digital Series that examines the effects of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The article has been updated to include new quotes from Ryan Knauss’ mother, two years after the soldier was killed during the evacuation.
Ryan Christian Knauss, a U.S. Army Special Operations Forces member who joined in May 2016, walked through Arlington National Cemetery for a mile. He walked through the cemetery, taking in the neatly spaced headstones.
Five years after his death, he was buried on the same sacred grounds.
Staff Sgt. Knauss, who was 23 at the time of his death along with 12 other American servicemen in the suicide bombing that took place on August 26, 2021 at Hamid Karzai International Airport Kabul, was a young man. Since then, his mother has spent each day thinking about him.
Paula Knauss Selph, a Fox News reporter, said: “Ryan won’t leave me any day.” She said that if she could see him once more, she would want to just hold him and say, “job done.”
She said, “He was a good man from the moment he was born until he died.”
Ryan’s enlistment was not a surprise to anyone. His family was full of veterans, including his grandfather who served in World War II.
Paula remembers that her son loved to dress up in camouflage, run around holding a toy pistol in one hand while holding a walkie-talkie in the other. Ryan Knauss and his older brother Tyler Knauss used to play army in the woods and fields near their Corryton home.
Paula stated that “his dream, his passion, and his purpose in his life was to serve the armed services.”
Ryan begged her to allow him to switch from Gibbs High School to Gibbs Private School in order to join the junior ROTC program. He brought home an recruiter one afternoon in his senior year.
Paula remembered Ryan telling her, “I know I’m still not of age.” The recruiter said, “You and Dad both need to sign the form so that I can get into the program.”
He then gave an ultimatum. “This recruiter said that if I don’t get you to sign this, I will be able to divorce my mom.”
Paula was shocked. Ryan told Paula that he did not want to join the Army , but had to.
Paula burst into laughter.
She recalled telling him, “‘Ryan you were born to serve in the military’.” “We want you do what you want to in life.”
In May 2016, Ryan’s parents took him to Washington, D.C., for his senior trip. He had told his parents he wanted to see the history of his nation. He took in the monuments and museums on the National Mall. He spent a solemn day at Arlington.
Mere days after returning home, he shipped off to basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, then joined the 82nd Airborne Division, which specializes in parachute assault operations. Then he left for his first mission to Afghanistan as a gunner.
“He wouldn’t talk about some of the things that happened,” Paula said. “It was really hard on him when he got back.”
Ryan worked hard to make it into Special Operations Forces and ultimately joined the 9th Battalion, 8th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne).
“He became quite confident in life,” Paula said. “He lit up a room with his encouragement to the troops. They will often talk about that. And Ryan could see the potential in something when others saw not enough hope.”
On Aug. 13, 2021, Ryan deployed to Afghanistan again, this time to assist with the evacuation of U.S. personnel, citizens and Afghan refugees. His mother got married the next day and left for a weeklong honeymoon, sending her son the occasional photo from the cruise. As the situation overseas began to look more dire, Paula texted more often, sending Ryan scriptures and asking how he was doing.
On Aug. 24, Paula unlocked her phone to see a selfie of Ryan sitting in his truck in Kabul, his hair tucked under a baseball cap and sunglasses shielding his eyes.
“All good here mom, I love you,” the message read.
That was the last she heard from him.
“I heard that there was a bomb, you know, and I heard that there was Marines killed,” Paula said. “But nobody said anything about Army.”
Then Ryan’s brother called their mother.
“He just said the words no parent ever wants to hear,” she said, crying as she remembered the phone call. “Tyler said, ‘Mom, Ryan is dead.'”
“I didn’t believe it,” Paula said. “Your kids should not die before you.”
“We should have never made people have to run to and fro around the airport trying to make their way in and climb on top of the airplane wheels just to get out of there,” Paula said. “The city should have not been given over until our mission was finished.”
President Biden touted the “extraordinary success of this mission” in a speech after the final American troops departed Kabul.
“It was not a success if we lost lives, especially our military,” Paula said. “This is a gut punch to every one of us to hear our president say, ‘Hey, this was great.'”
Two years later, her feelings haven’t changed.
“The humanitarian mission’s lack of planning for the withdrawal at Kabul, Afghanistan is another painful example of President Biden’s poor leadership that extends to higher housing interest rates, costly fuel bills, poor foreign relations, and the list goes on and on,” she told Fox News. “Frustrated Americans are tired of politicians more worried about their image than the well-being of its people.”
But Paula said the outpouring of support from across the globe — in the form of cards, emails, posters, drawings and other tributes to her son — meant the world to Ryan’s family.
“It makes a difference to read another card, to see another text … open up something in the mail and know that someone thought of your son that day,” she said. “I just want to put out there again what thankfulness we have, gratefulness we have, to know we’re not alone.”
Neither the White House nor the Pentagon immediately responded to requests for comment, but the president did release a general statement on the second anniversary of the Kabul airport attack.
“We will forever honor the memory of the 13 service members who were stolen far too soon from their families, loved ones, and brothers- and sisters-in-arms, while performing a noble mission on behalf of our nation,” Biden said. “We can never repay the incredible sacrifice of any of the 2,461 U.S. service members who lost their lives over two decades of war in Afghanistan or the 20,744 who were wounded. But we will never fail to honor our sacred obligation to our service members and veterans, as well as their families, caregivers, and survivors.”
CORRECTION: A previous headline for this article identified the fallen soldier as “special forces Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss.” Knauss was in 1st Special Forces Command, but his job title was psychological operations. We regret the error.