I was thinking of how to write this piece, planning it out in my head, while doing some grocery shopping this weekend. I wanted to get this right, to say something important and well thought out about why we chose to do something honoring the memory of fallen CIA personnel since 9/11. Then I realized I didn’t know offhand how many officers had been killed serving their country in that time frame. A quick back and forth with Sean Sullivan via text and I was actually taken aback at the number.
33 (acknowledged as of Nov. 2014)
That is 33 out of a total 111 stars on the Memorial Wall at Langley. That is astonishing.
The marked increase since November 25, 2001 cannot be ignored. To me it details an Agency made up of dedicated and courageous Americans who lost their lives working to protect a nation they dearly loved. Some were lost to terrorist attacks, paramilitary operations and other events we can’t detail here. Some are named and others will likely be names past down only to those within the circle of the Agency’s silent sentinels for decades to come.
We got the idea to put together some kind of memorial piece of our own some time ago. In one sense it is odd to produce a product to sell that honors those lost in a clandestine service. That oddity is not lost on us, but we feel this is a legitimate way to honor our fallen brothers and sisters.
Image courtesy of the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation website
November 25, 2014 marks the 13th anniversary of the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi and the date of the first American killed in what became Operation Enduring Freedom. Johnny Micheal Spann was not only the first American killed in the conflict, but also the first CIA officer killed since 9/11. I won’t attempt to detail Spann’s story as quite a few other sources have done a much better job of it.
I don’t remember what I was doing when the news broke that an American had been killed. I do remember that was probably the first time I really took notice of the Agency however. The idea that civilians were engaged in a war overseas just stuck with me. I remember a few years later when I read Gary Schroen’s “First In” and then Gary Berntsen’s “Jawbreaker” back to back, totally blown away by what these Agency officers were taking part in. It just hadn’t been a part of my world previously.
33 lives lost, for a civilian agency is quite significant. I know I’ve read plenty of news stories about a risk adverse Agency culture. Its either that or they are gung-ho cowboys. When I was in I remember having an easier time letting those jabs glance off than I do now that I have the luxury of actually getting upset and trying to respond to them. After all, I was usually reading them in the internal news and could only comment to friends via SameTime.
Now that I am out I think it is important for those of us who understand and appreciate the sacrifices that these 33 have made (as well as the previous 78 mind you) to honor them in any way we respectfully can. One way other fellow officers have honored the fallen is by creating the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation "The Foundation was established in December 2001 to provide educational support to the children of CIA officers killed in the line of duty. In May 2006, the Foundation's Board of Directors voted to expand its mission to include providing educational support to the spouses of CIA officers killed in the line of duty, and the children and spouses of officers who die on active duty as a result of accident, illness or other causes." We couldn't think of a better way to complete our honorarium than to donate all of the profits from this upcoming project to the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation.
We picked November 25 for its obvious significance. I didn’t know Mike Spann, though I did have the honor of working with a few of his colleagues. They all spoke fondly of him and the others lost since 2001. We should remember these officers and the sacrifices they made for our nation.