Word of CIA agent Mike Spann’s death November 29, 2001 in Afghanistan struck a chord with Washington State University graduate Lt. Col. Kurt Stinemetz (’76 Anthro.), U.S. Marine Corps. Spann was the first U.S. casualty in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. Spann was killed in an uprising of Taliban prisoners being held for interrogation. His hometown was Winfield, Alabama, population 1,200.
Stinemetz oversees the Montgomery Military Entrance Processing Station 200 miles away from Winfield. Some 16,000 men and women in Alabama wanting to enlist in all branches of the military and National Guard annually pass through the facility.
Stinemetz and Spann shared a common bond. The latter was a captain in the Marines before joining the CIA.
When Stinemetz learned where the memorial service for Spann was to be held, he called the minister at the church in Winfield and told him he’d like to attend. He wanted personally to convey his condolences to Spann’s widow and three children. On his own, he arranged for a Marine color guard and firing detail to travel from Montgomery to Winfield.
The December 5 service concluded with a 21-gun salute. (Later Spann’s body was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.)
“The whole town of Winfield” turned out for the memorial service, Stinemetz said. He visited with Spann’s family, his best friends, even his football coach. He sat next to a woman, a cousin of Spann’s, in the church where Spann had been a regular worshipper. In his eulogy, the minister remembered Spann as a Christian of high morals, clean-cut and decent, well liked and respected . . . “the All-American kid.” Stinemetz heard the same comments from others.
Clad in his dress blue uniform, Stinemetz was sought out by reporters. Was he Spann’s commanding officer? Did he know him?
“No,” the colonel responded. “He was a Marine. I’m a Marine. I wanted to be here. I didn’t need any other reason.”
In his conversation with Washington State Magazine, Stinemetz apologized if his words sounded “melodramatic.”
“That’s how Marines feel about fellow Marines. It’s inveterate in our soul from basic training. It becomes part of our genetic code,” he said. “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
For Stinemetz, becoming a Marine had an air of inevitability about it.
After graduating from WSU, he opted for Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia. His decision was influenced by the fact that his father was a retired Marine officer and that “everything else looked rather dull and boring in comparison.”
His area of training is air defense, specifically surface-to-air missiles like the Hawk, now obsolete, and the Stinger. He said the Afghans used Stingers successfully to deny the Russians air superiority in 1980. As a result, the invaders were forced to fight a ground war in the rugged terrain, where they were no match for the fortified Afghans.
As a student at WSU, Stinemetz lived on the seventh floor of Rogers Hall for four years. Many of the friends he made there are now “lawyers in Seattle or Bellevue,” he says with a laugh. He found the campus “conservative, but intellectually stimulating.” He rarely missed a presentation by visiting speakers, among them Ralph Nader and Eldridge Cleaver. And he enjoyed concerts by small performing groups from the music department.
Pullman’s rural situation and land-grant philosophy appealed to him.
“Some of the fondest memories of my young life were forged there,” he says. Two of his sisters would follow him to WSU. “They feel the same way.”
“Wherever I’ve traveled, from the Taj Mahal to New Zealand, Washington State University has been a part of me. I often think about returning to Pullman to live. It’s a timeless place.”