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Remembering Mike Spann - Hallowed Ground at Kala-Jangi

    "I believe in the meaning of honor and integrity.  I am an action person who feels personally responsible for making any changes in this world that are in my power...because if I don't, no one else will." - Mike Spann, A passage from his CIA application

The sixth anniversary of the Battle of Kala-Jangi Fortress (Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan) is on November 25th.  The Fortress, originally built in 1889 by 18,000 workers over 12 years, is where former Marine Captain, and CIA Special Operations Officer, Johnny "Mike" Spann was killed during early operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in late 2001.   Mike Spann was the first US casualty in the War on Terror.  US Navy Petty Officer 1st Class David Votroubek wrote about Mike Spann and the anniversary of the Battle of Kala-Jangi from the fortress in Afghanistan:

U.S. Soldiers based at Forward Operating Base Mike Spann look at a memorial set up in his honor on the grounds of the Kala-Jangi fortress. Spann was killed near this spot on November 25, 2001 by rioting Taliban prisoners, making him the first American casualty of the war in Afghanistan. Photographer: Petty Officer 1st Class David Votroubek.

Remembering Mike Spann
Petty Officer 1st Class David Votroubek
Combined Security Transition Command –Afghanistan
Public Affairs Office

MAZAR-e-SHARIF, Afghanistan – Destroyed vehicles and rusting weapons still lay in the grass within the 100 year-old fortress, evidence of a week-long fight. It was six years ago, but the battle at Kala-Jangi prison seems much more recent.

Initially, the 19th century fort had been a Taliban base, but in November of 2001, it was being used as a headquarters and ammunition depot by General Abdul Rashid Dostrum of the Afghan Northern Alliance. After talks with the coalition forces, it was decided that the Taliban prisoners who had surrendered would be held there.

Johnny “Mike” Spann, a 32 year-old former Marine captain, was working for the CIA when he died. Spann and his partner Dave Tyson were questioning Taliban prisoners at Kala-Jangi on Nov. 25, 2001 when an uprising broke out. The prisoners overpowered nearly 20 Afghan guards and killed Spann. Tyson was able to escape and call for help.

In the ensuing battle, hundreds of Taliban fighters were killed by numerous airstrikes, direct fire from tanks and heavy machine gun fire from circling gunships. After a week, their fierce resistance was finally quelled. Only 86 surrendered.

At the request of Spann’s family, President Bush allowed him to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He also received a star on the wall at CIA headquarters, and was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star and the Exceptional Service Medallion...

Hundreds of rusting Soviet-era weapons magazines remains on the grounds of the Kala-Jangi fortress, six years after the battle with Taliban prisoners who revolted there.

...Forward Operating Base Mike Spann near Mazar-e-Sharif was named in his honor and coalition soldiers from there regularly visit the site. One of them is Army First Sgt. Andrew Culbreth, who calls it, “An impressive fortress that was the starting point of the U.S. involvement in the fight for freedom in Afghanistan."

Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Lewis Nunemaker has also been there, and has seen the memorial that overlooks the spot where American Special Forces recovered Spann’s body.

He said, "Being [based] here on Camp Spann...Kala-Jangi is hallowed ground."

The place is quiet now. Although it has been partially restored, the pock-marked walls still stand in mute testimony of the fight where America’s first casualty in Afghanistan fell. Mike Spann’s commitment continues with every U.S. service man and woman who have come to Afghanistan. He may have been the first, but he was not the last American to pay the ultimate price for both Afghan and American freedom.

You can read more about Mike at his Arlington Cemetary page and at the site set up by his family (please visit it) - Honor Mike Spann.

Mike's wife, Shannon, gets the last word, "Mike is a hero not because of the way he died, but because of the way he lived."