As I write this, I’ve begun to analyze how the title of this story might come off at first glance. I can tell you that this mantra has been shared with only a tight group of our nation’s finest operators until now. By sharing a part of our inner circle, I hope to honor and shine a spotlight on tales of bravery and sacrifice.
You see, it all started out my first week at the CIA. No kidding, there is a week-long course for new employees titled CIA 101. I sat in a large room with other new employees. Each person was there for a different reason, but with the same overall goal.
Different departments within the CIA came to speak and boast why they were the “tip of the spear.” We listened to human-resources directors speak, and took notice of a small dragonfly adrift in the room, courtesy of the directorate of operations. We soon learned that this was part of the presentation; it was the latest “bug” in the CIA’s arsenal that captured audio and video while maintaining the appearance of an insect. Crazy, right?
Halfway through my orientation, a group of burly men came and pulled me out. They introduced themselves with one-word call signs and welcomed me to the unit. Unbeknownst to me, the family of the first American killed in the War on Terror was at the building. I am referring to Johnny Michael Spann. His wife and newborn child were there to see the unveiling of his star on the CIA’s memorial wall. I was voluntold to join my new colleagues because it doesn’t happen often.
As you enter the CIA Old Headquarters Building, or OHB to staffers, you walk five steps and see the CIA Memorial Wall off to your right. The “Book of Honor” is mounted below 113 stars carved in a white granite wall. Only 80 of the names are listed in the book. The remaining names are intentionally left blank because the nature of their work has not yet been declassified. Even in death they won’t appear. All you will see on paper is a date on the left, and a blank space where the name should appear on the right.
Now for some insider knowledge. All the names (even classified) are read aloud on two occasions:
- Memorial Day
- Unveiling a new star in memoriam
I looked at Mrs. Spann and her baby that day and felt two emotions: anger and sorrow. Every time after that, I made it a point to walk by the memorial whenever possible. It fueled me in a way. I remembered the fallen, Johnny Spann and his family, and it gave meaning to the work I was doing. This one is for the fallen.
Featured image courtesy of AP