Derrick Shannon always knew that he wanted to serve his country in some way.
His parents and friends told him he’d change his mind “a million times” before finally settling on a career path.
“I think I suprised them all,” Shannon said with a big smile. “I never wavered. I stayed on this path and I’m really happy I did.”
Derrick graduated from Honesdale in 2010 where he starred in three varsity sports: wrestling, football and baseball. He considered enlisting in the Army, but his heart was always with the Air Force...and that’s where he signed on the dotted line.
“The Air Force recruiter really impressed me,” Shannon said. “His name is Sgt. Joseph Maltese. He sought me out and hunted me down. We became really good friends and he helped me out tremendously. I made the right decision and I’ve never regretted it.”
Over the past 20 months, Shannon has spent time in Texas, Florida, Washington and Georgia. He’s currently stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Derrick stopped by The Wayne Independent this week to chat about his time in Wayne County and his future as a member of the Air Combat Command.
Q: Tell us about the demands of training for such a prestigious and elite arm of the Air Force.
A: Well, there were originally 24 of us that qualified in my basic training flight. Only two of us, me and my bunkmate, made it through. There were a lot of dudes who washed out back to other classes. My buddy and I were the only ones who made it.
Q: I would imagine that the training you guys underwent was pretty demanding?
A: Absolutely. It’s physically demanding and mentally demanding, too. We work with the Army a lot, so we’re on the ground carrying the radios and all that stuff everywhere. I’ve carried 115 pounds of equipment on my back as far as 12 miles. It’s challenging. There are times when we’re in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a map and a compass. It’s quite an experience.
Q: Think back to your years at Honesdale High School. Was there ever a time when you imagined yourself in that kind of situation?
A: (Laughing) Absolutely not. That’s one of the things they definitely don’t show you in the recruiting videos. Another thing they don’t tell you about is getting up ridiculously early in the morning. Some of my training involved getting up at 4:30 a.m. every day for physical training. Then we’d go to class, work out in the gym, eat breakfast and then go to work. My job is to learn as much as I can so I’m ready for any situation imaginable.
Page 2 of 2 - Q: What’s the scariest part of what you’re doing?
A: That’s actually a pretty easy question to answer. What I’m usually doing is communicating between the Air Force and the Army ground forces. I pass grid coordinates to aircraft so they can drop ordnance...and if I get even one number wrong, your own people or civilians get killed. It’s really precise and it can be really stressful.
Q: Derrick tell our readers exactly who you are and what you do in a military context.
A: My current rank is Airman First Class and my job right now...I’m known as a “TACCS,” which stands for Tactical Air Command & Control Specialist. I’m training to be a “JTAC,” which is a Joint Terminal Attack Coordinator. What we do is provide close air support for the Army.
Q: Let’s say there’s a battle raging and you’re involved. Where are you and what’s going on?
A: It’s all mission dependent. I might be on the ground with the Army Rangers or I might be in a Humvee. We could also be in the Tactical Operations Center looking at compute screens and video feeds. I’m translating between two very different groups. The guys on the ground speak Army to us and I translate it into Air Force speak.
Q: Do you carry weapons while you’re hauling all that radio equipment around during the battle?
A: Oh, yeah. But, we always try to let the ground guys shoot back while we keep talking on the radios. After all, a bullet is a bullet, but a bomb is a bomb and there’s a huge difference.
Q: Are you planning to make this your career?
A: No question about it. I love what I’m doing with the Air Force and I love serving my country. I’m going to keep working hard and training hard and hopefully get even more involved in more special operations.
Airman First Class Derrick Shannon is the son of Kelly and Sean Shannon. His stepmothers are Jen Serge and Michelle Shannon. He has one brother and three sisters.