23-Year-Old Widow Opens Up About Her Love Story with the Last Soldier Killed in Afghanistan

by Samantha Whidden

Just two weeks after the attack at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed 13 U.S. soldiers and nearly 170 Afghan civilians, the widow of one of the victims, 23-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss, is opening up about their relationship. 

During an interview with People, Alena Knauss, the soldier’s widow, spoke about her husband’s need to help others. “I think it was just a sense of service. Really and truly. He loved to help people.”

Alena also recalled how she met the soldier when she was 16-years-old. The duo worked together at a local pizza parlor.

She described him as full of energy and she didn’t really know how to handle his personality. “[I said to a friend], ‘Who is this kid? Who’d does he think he is? He needs to calm down.’”

Over time, Alena and Ryan became close, but she brushed off his attempts to date for over a year. Her mother eventually convinced her to date him. “My mom always roots for an underdog. That’s her thing.”

Alena also recalled how the soldier was always kind to her mother. So that was when her mom talked to her about him.

“So of course my mom was like, ‘Alena, if you do not give this boy a chance, he will always be the one you look back and wonder, what if?’”

Ryan Tells Alena His Decision to Become a U.S. Soldier 

Alena recalls how Ryan approached her about him enlisting in the U.S. Army and becoming a soldier. That was when she talked about marriage. “After airborne, he was going to be cut orders and I knew from my father [who was in the military], if we want to get all this stuff moved for free, I need to be on your orders,” she remembered telling him. Not even missing a beat, Ryan asked when can they get married. 

Alena also shared the hilarious story about how Ryan proposed. “One day he was like, ‘Hey I need to go by the mall..’ So we drove to the mall and he’s like, ‘You just stay here.’ [I thought] ‘Oh my God, he is going in there and he’s going to buy a ring.’”

He then proposed to her at a local airborne museum but had a bit of an issue getting the ring through security. There were metal detectors, but they managed to get through. Alena goes on to share the soldier finally got down on one knee, opened the ring box upside down, and the ring fell out. Both of them got down on their knees and were looking for the ring. They luckily found the ring and were married in 2016.

The soldier went on a nine-month tour in Afghanistan in 2017 and 2018. He was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. The last time he and Alena saw each other was on August 15th just before he headed back to Afghanistan.