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The Inspiring Story of Shannon Kent: Woman Warrior

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Shannon Kent was an extraordinary woman. She grew up in the Hudson Valley town of Pine Plains, New York. The daughter of a school teacher and the third highest-ranking cop in New York, Shannon excelled at almost everything. When she was a little girl, she didn’t let a challenge slow her down or stop her. When a boy made fun of her on the playground about her troubles on the monkey bars, Shannon worked on them until her hands bled – until she was the best monkey bars kid on the playground. Shannon was an honor student in high school and enlisted two years later. 

Shannon joined the Navy to be more than a sailor; she wanted to be a warrior. America was deep into combat operations by the time she finished boot camp. She wanted to try SEAL team training, but that was never going to happen. In early 2004, she was assigned to Navy Information Operations in Georgia. For four years, she was the noncommissioned officer in charge at the NSA’s operations directorate. She moved on to Cryptologic Warfare and excelled in languages. She was fluent in Arabic, Portuguese, French, and Spanish. 

Shannon then volunteered to deploy with a SEAL Team in Iraq as intelligence support. She was drawn to the action and volunteered to attend the Special Warfare Direct Support Course. At that time, the program was brand new.  

In 2008, Shannon graduated from the month-long course, which involved grueling physical training, including graded ruck marches, runs, swimming, marksmanship, and close-quarter combat drills. Kent finished third in the class. She was assigned to an East Coast SEAL Team. Women in support of SEAL Teams was a new concept, but Shannon welcomed the challenge. Soon, even the SEALs who were dubious of women in support were won over by Shannon’s “rock star” abilities and can-do attitude. Her second deployment was to Afghanistan in 2012.

Two years later, she met her future husband, Joe Kent. Joe Kent was an Army Officer and Green Beret. They married in 2014 and had two children. Shannon was a rising star in the Navy, but in 2016, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The cancer was removed, and she was back to work the next day. Although Shannon had beaten cancer she couldn’t beat the Navy's bureaucracy. She had been accepted to the Navy’s Doctorate of Psychology Program. That assignment would have led to her being commissioned as an officer, but the Navy canceled her assignment. She was deemed “medically unfit"  to be a commissioned officer. Shannon sought a waiver but was denied. She sought help from Congress, but the Navy wouldn’t relent. 

Shannon, medically cleared to serve with Special Forces but “unfit” to serve as an officer, was then deployed to Syria in 2018. In 2019, Shannon was part of a group of Special Operations soldiers and U.S. Contractors who met with local military officials. Later that day, the Americans went to a restaurant for a meal. Shortly thereafter, a suicide bomber detonated his murder device outside of the restaurant, killing Shannon and 18 others, including four Americans. Shannon was the first woman to die in combat in three years. She was posthumously promoted to Senior Chief Petty Officer.  Shannon left behind two sons and her husband, Joe Kent. She’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery. 

Her inspiring story is detailed in the book “Send Me: The True Story of a Mother at War.”

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