Johnny Micheal Spann

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Johnny Micheal Spann
J M Spann.jpg
Born(1969-03-01)March 1, 1969
Winfield, Alabama, U.S.
DiedNovember 25, 2001(2001-11-25) (aged 32)
Qala-i-Jangi, Balkh Province, Afghanistan
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service1991–1999
RankUS Marine O3 shoulderboard.svg Captain
UnitSpecial Activities Division
Battles/warsWar in Afghanistan
AwardsIntelligence Star
Exceptional Service Medallion
Other work Central Intelligence Agency (1999-2001)

Johnny Micheal "Mike" Spann (March 1, 1969 – November 25, 2001) was a paramilitary operations officer in the Central Intelligence Agency's Special Activities Division (renamed Special Activities Center in 2016[1]). Spann was the first American killed in combat during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. He died at the Qala-i-Jangi fortress in a Taliban prisoner uprising.

Early life[edit]

Johnny Micheal Spann was from the small town of Winfield, Alabama, the son of a real estate agent and his wife. Spann graduated in 1987 from Winfield City High School, where he played football. At 17, he earned his private pilot license and later became a certified rescue diver and parachutist.

Military service[edit]

In December 1991, while attending Auburn University, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve. After graduating from Auburn with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement in 1992, Spann attended the Marines' Officer Candidates School at Quantico, Virginia. He had originally wanted to go into aviation, but became a field artillery officer and eventually served with the elite 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company.[2] He specialized in directing indirect fire and close air support. In 1997, he served as second-in-command for UNITAS, a joint exercise expedition in Latin America and Africa.[3]

He served six years with the United States Marine Corps, including tours in Okinawa, Japan and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, eventually achieving the rank of Captain. Spann joined the CIA in June 1999 and went on to serve in the Special Operations Group of the CIA's Special Activities Division.[4]

Death at Qala-i-Jangi[edit]

Spann was killed during a riot at the Qala-i-Jangi compound near Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan according to CNN reporter Robert Young Pelton.[5] Earlier that day, he and David Tyson, another SAD officer, questioned John Walker Lindh, an American citizen, and other prisoners.

Officials recovered his body after Afghan Northern Alliance troops, backed by U.S. air strikes, US Army Special Forces and British Special Boat Service members, quelled the uprising.

Some sources say that he fought with his AK-47 until it ran out of ammunition, then drew his pistol until it, too, emptied, then resorted to hand-to-hand combat before finally being overcome.[6] In a news report by Time published shortly after the events reports, it is stated that Spann fought only with his pistol, killing three attackers before being overwhelmed by the more numerous prisoners. His colleague, Dave "Dawson" Tyson, an Uzbek-language specialist, opened fire with the AK-47 before running away.

Time reported shortly after the events:

According to members of a German television crew who were later trapped in the fort with Dave, Spann asked the prisoners who they were and why they joined the Taliban. They massed around him. 'Why are you here?' Spann asked one. 'To kill you,' came the reply as the man lunged at Spann's neck. Spann drew his pistol and shot the man dead. Dave shot another, then grabbed an AK-47 from an Alliance guard and opened fire. According to eyewitness accounts given to the German team, the Taliban fighters launched themselves at Spann, scrabbling at his flesh with their hands, kicking and beating him. Spann killed seven more with his pistol before he disappeared under the crush.[7]


Spann's headstone in Arlington National Cemetery.

Spann is memorialized with a star on the CIA Memorial Wall at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia that commemorates individuals who died in the line of duty. Spann was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star and the Exceptional Service Medallion.[8]

Because the Intelligence Star is considered the equivalent of the U.S. military's Silver Star, Spann was approved for burial in Arlington National Cemetery.[9] Spann is buried in section 34 at Arlington National Cemetery.

A small memorial to Mike Spann exists at Qala-i-Jangi. A forward operating base is named in his honor.[10]

The Alabama legislature named a section of Alabama Highway 129 the "Johnny Micheal Spann Highway" in his honor.[11]

Memorial at Qala-i-Jangi Fortress

Home and Family[edit]

Spann lived in Manassas Park, Virginia[12] and was survived by his wife, Shannon, also a CIA employee, and three children. His ex-wife, Kathryn Ann Webb, mother of two of his children, died of cancer five weeks after Spann's death.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Mahoney, Richard D. Getting Away with Murder: The Real Story Behind American Taliban John Walker Lindh and What the U.S. Government Had to Hide. Arcade Publishing. 2004. page 118
  3. ^ Mahoney, 2004. page 119
  4. ^
  5. ^ Robert Young Pelton. "The Truth about John Walker Lindh" (PDF). Honor Mike Spann. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 25, 2006. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
  6. ^ "Johnny Micheal Spann, Captain, United States Marine Corps, Central Intelligence Agency Officer". Arlington National Cemetery Website.
  7. ^ Perry, Alex (December 1, 2001). "Inside the Battle at Qala-I-Jangi". Time. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  8. ^ "CIA Honors Slain Agency Officers at Annual Ceremony". Director of Central Intelligence. Archived from the original on 2006-05-13. Retrieved 2016-11-17.
  9. ^ Bob Woodward, Bush At War, Simon and Schuester, 2002, page 317
  10. ^ "Recently, I was fortunate ..." 3 April 2007.
  11. ^ "SJR 21, Designating the Johnny Micheal Spann Highway". Archived from the original on 7 April 2006. Retrieved 3 December 2013.
  12. ^ Johnny Micheal Spann, Captain, United States Marine Corps & CIA Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  13. ^ "Alison Spann: A child of war with a sense of purpose -". CNN. September 9, 2013.


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