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Service & Sacrifice: The Last Soldier

“He was making everybody better and he was making himself better," said First Sgt. Michael Dean, who served with Knoxville Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss in Afghanistan.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The shocking news that a soldier from Knoxville was one of the last American service members killed in America’s longest war proved devastating news for his family, his hometown and his military friends. Some of those same soldiers who were with Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss on his last day.

“I think all they need to know, Ryan wouldn't change [a] single thing that he did out there,” said Sergeant Bradley Tsiopos, who had already spent close to a week with the Army Psychological Operations team on that volunteer mission to help evacuate American citizens and Afghan civilians from the airport in Kabul in late August.

The scene marked a chaotic end to the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

For the first time, WBIR is hearing from some of the men who served shoulder-to-shoulder with Ryan across his military career in the Army and on his last assignment.

“He just walked one way I walked the other,” said Sgt. Tsiopos, just before a blast from a suicide bomber knocked them both to the ground outside the airport walls.

Sgt. Tsiopos recalled suffering minor injuries that were“nothing serious,” but his 23-year-old friend from Knoxville was mortally wounded. First responders rushed Knauss to a first aid station for treatment. It wasn’t long before another fellow soldier came to offer comfort to his friend.

Credit: Department of Defense
Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss (second from left in sunglasses) was the last American service member killed in the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

“He knew I was there. And, you know, when I grabbed his feet, you know, he wiggled his toes. And of course, I tickle his feet and [feel] his toes, but just an overwhelming sense of, 'I got this,' and just sheer fearlessness," said Staff Sgt. Maxwell Bohlman. "That was in that man's eyes, because that's what he lived."

“Ryan was always that kind of person, that he was looking out for someone,” said First Sergeant Michael Dean.

Another soldier remembers Ryan as the kind of person who “leaves a mark on your life,” no matter how short or long a time a person spends with them.

“Ryan was a great soldier and a competitor, and I miss him every day, but he was doing what he needed to do,” said Sgt. Tsiopos.