Spangdahlem Airman makes history

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Chad Warren
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
On a quiet runway in Kuwait, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Shannon Hennessy and her military working dog Katya sat aboard a military transport aircraft awaiting takeoff on the final leg of their journey to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Although it was short notice and slightly more rushed than normal, the process was familiar to Hennessy; she had deployed several times.

Half an hour before takeoff, the silence on board was broken by a crew announcement informing Hennessy that she was no longer going to Kandahar. Instead, she was about to accomplish an Air Force first and earn a prestigious award for her efforts along the way.

"I was shocked," said Hennessy. "There were three of us handlers who came through at the same time, and all three of us got diverted from Kandahar to Bagram to work with [Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force]."

The three Airmen on board were about to become the first Air Force female MWD handlers to go on a combat deployment with CJSOTF.

Her first of several deployments was to Iraq only two weeks after graduating security forces technical training, but she knew this one was different. The mission would be more dangerous and demanding than anything she had ever experienced, and the Colusa, Calif., native had no intention of worrying her parents any more than necessary.

"I didn't tell my family," she said with a laugh, referring to the last-minute change of plans. "They already knew I would be doing outside-the-wire stuff with the Army, and that is scary enough as it is. I didn't want to stress them out any more."

In addition to being one of the first females to perform the mission, being attached to a special operations unit presented other unique obstacles she needed to overcome.

Earning the trust of such a tight-knit group is challenging, explained Hennessy. They learned to trust each other by fighting side-by-side for years.

For an outsider to come in as the sole MWD handler on the team and change how they do things caused some friction in the beginning, but after demonstrating her capabilities and skill, the team learned to trust the duo to lead the way into potentially deadly situations.

"You have to trust your dog," said Hennessy, explaining that during patrols, a MWD team may be the only thing protecting them from a bomb. "It was nerve wracking, but at the same time, you have to put all that aside and say, 'I know my job, I know what I'm doing, and I'm going to make it happen and make it home safe.'"

During the six-month deployment, Hennessy and Katya led their team on more than 75 combat patrols and engaged enemy forces on more than 50 occasions. For her efforts she earned a Bronze Star Medal, and U.S. Air Force Col. David Julazadeh, 52nd Fighter Wing commander, presented it during a ceremony upon her return.