SIMMONS: Persevering with aid from military and a strong faith

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Alison Spann is only 21 years old and already she is living a faithful life of honor and courage, and commitment and dogged determination — character traits not readily recognized in many young people.

Miss Spann’s stem from the sturdy family tree branch of Johnny “Mike” Spann, the first American killed in combat during the war in Afghanistan.

A rising senior at Pepperdine University, Miss Spann’s voice slightly trembles when she speaks of her dad’s fortitude, his tremendous sacrifice and her steady-as-a-rock military family.

Mike Spann, 32, was killed Nov. 25, 2001, in Mazar-e-Sharif. Working as a paramilitary officer in the CIA’s Special Operatives Mission at a fortress holding al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners, he was slain during a prison riot. The goal of the mission: get Osama bin Laden.

Five weeks later, during an already tough Christmas holiday season, Alison and her younger sister, Emily, and young brother, Jacob, lost their mom to cancer.

Alison was but 9 years old, a time when natural growing pains already have youths pushing the envelope and questioning their faith and values, laid out by their parents, as well as the natural boundaries of pre-adolescence. And even like many adults who lose a beloved, she asked God “why?”

“I’ve struggled with that since my dad passed away and my mom passed, especially when you’re 9, raised in a Christian home [and] very involved in church.”

You question whether he “turned his back on you.”

Indeed, it’s her unwavering faith and the Marine and Navy families that have always been there for her.

“We lived in Manassas and the families were there for us and us for them,” Miss Spann said. “Same thing when we lived in Okinawa.”

When the Spann family moved to Alabama, the military families stepped up again.

This time it was so that Miss Spann could attend Pepperdine, where she majors in communications.

“My dad was no longer in the Marines when he was killed, but families in the corps and their families embraced us as they always had,” said Miss Spann, who is an intern in the office Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican. “For us, education was never an option. It wasn’t a question of whether I’d go to college but where and how.”

A four-time recipient of college scholarships from the Heroes Tribute Scholarship Program for Children of the Fallen from the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, Miss Spann is one of thousands of American children who have lost parents in the war, and she hopes to use her college education and her life experience in a career that melds communications and politics.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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