Action. Responsibility. Leadership. These are words Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann used to describe himself in his application to the CIA.
He took these traits with him when he deployed in the fall of 2001 to Afghanistan as part of the government’s response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
Mike was conducting initial interviews of extremists held in Qali-Jangi fortress at Mazar-e Sharif when hundreds of prisoners revolted and he was attacked.
His last act, just before he was killed by those who had supposedly surrendered, was to warn an Agency colleague of the imminent danger. Mike was killed on November 25, 2001: The first American killed in combat in Afghanistan.
Mike grew up in Winfield, Alabama. He played both wide receiver and running back for the Winfield High School Pirates football team.
Mike attended Auburn University, where he graduated with a degree in criminal justice in 1992. Before graduating, he joined the Marine Corps (December 1991) as an artillery specialist. He spent eight years in the Marines, rising to the rank of captain.
Life at CIA:
Mike joined CIA in 1999 as a paramilitary officer. A young man-only 32 years old-he was no stranger to challenge or daring.
He graduated from the basic training program of the National Clandestine Service (now the Directorate of Operations) just a year before his death.
Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet described Mike as “quiet, serious, and absolutely unflappable … [his] stoicism concealed a dry sense of humor and a heart of gold.”
His Final Mission:
Mike deployed to Afghanistan in the fall of 2001.
He was in the fortress of Qali-Jangi at Mazar-e Sharif, where Taliban prisoners were being held and questioned. Although these captives had given themselves up, their pledge of surrender was a lie.
Mike was interviewing a group of extremists when hundreds of prisoners revolted. Just before he was killed in the attack, Mike warned an Agency colleague of the imminent danger, helping his colleague get to safety.
Director Tenet, upon hearing of Mike’s death, described him as a “quiet warrior” who “placed his own life in jeopardy to save the lives of others.”
“He led one of our teams into Afghanistan.” Tenet said. “There, he tracked the authors and allies of terror. There, while fighting for the future of the American people, he fought to bring a better future to the Afghan people. And it was there, one evening, that he said he would gladly risk his life if he could help make the world a safer place for his wife and children.”
“As we know,” said Tenet, “those were much more than words.”
Mike’s actions in the six weeks he was in Afghanistan made a major contribution to the battle against the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in north-central Afghanistan.
Mike was survived by his wife, infant son, two young daughters, two sisters, and his loving parents.
Honoring His Service:
At Mike’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in December 2001, Director Tenet had this to say:
“It was in the quest for right that Mike at his country’s call went to Afghanistan. To that place of danger and terror, he sought to bring justice and freedom. And to our nation — which he held so close to his heart — he sought to bring a still greater measure of strength and security. For Mike understood that it is not enough simply to dream of a better, safer world. He understood that it has to be built — with passion and dedication, in the face of obstacles, in the face of evil.”
Johnny Micheal Spann’s star was the 79th carved on the Agency’s Memorial Wall and his name appears in the CIA Book of Honor. He received the Intelligence Star and the Exceptional Service Medallion posthumously.
Remembering His Sacrifice:
In 2013, the Agency commemorated the 12th anniversary of Mike’s death by unveiling a “Camp Mike Spann” sign.
The sign was presented to the CIA Museum by an Agency officer and his colleague. After seeing the CIA Museum’s exhibit on CIA’s role in Afghanistan, the officer wanted to preserve the sign so that it wasn’t lost in the draw-down of US Forces in Afghanistan.
As the sign was dedicated, the Agency officer noted, “We are just a couple of regular guys trying to save a piece of wood with an American hero’s name on it.”
*Note: “Micheal” is spelled correctly.