Shannon Ihrke’s journey from a small town in Minnesota to becoming a sergeant in the military is a bewildering tale filled with memorable anecdotes and ends with an unexpected twist. After high school Shannon, 29, chose a four year college close to her hometown and began her studies in typical American fashion. However, life at a university wasn’t quite what she expected, so Shannon began looking for alternative options.
Country At Heart
Shannon grew up in a small town called Walker, on the northern edge of central Minnesota. Coming from a small town girl has its advantages, namely than Shannon learned from a young age how to fend for herself. She grew up near the serenity of Leech Lake, constantly participating in outdoor activities, like horseback riding, fishing, hunting, and boating. Shannon always felt the pull of being “one of the guys” but also knew she wanted more than the rural town could offer.
Setting Off Alone
After high school, Shannon decided that incremental change would be best, and she moved south to attend St. Cloud State University, where she intended to pursue a degree in marketing. Shannon decided to start working a job to help pay the bills, and found it wasn’t enough. After taking on a second job and still struggling financially, she began to wonder if pushing herself to complete her degree was really worth it. Shannon needed a change.
Finding A Third Way
Shannon evaluated her options. She could continue fighting tooth and nail for her degree, while becoming increasingly unhappy with the amount of stress she was under, or she could leave school in order to work. Neither seemed like a good option, but as she was walking on campus one day, a sign caught her eye. It was advertising army enlistment. The idea began to settle in Shannon’s head as an appropriate change to be making, but there was more to consider.
Top Of The Barrel
Shannon knew in her heart that if she was going to join the military, she wanted it to be a fulfilling experience. She began researching the different options, from the Army to the Air Force, to the Navy, and finally the Marines. As she spoke to the recruiter, she felt her resolve harden when he looked her over twice and informed her she wouldn’t make it. It was the final push Shannon needed, and she joined the Marines.
From St. Cloud To South Carolina
Shannon disembarked in South Carolina, ready to begin her boot camp training. She knew getting through training was going to be a daunting task, but with the recruiters words echoing in her head, she made up her mind to not just get through the training, but to excel. She saw how even the other women looked at her, like she was some sort of delicate flower that would destroyed the moment she began to sweat. She was going to prove them all wrong.
Overcoming The Barriers
Shannon recently told The Daily Mail, “A lot of the Marines initially thought that I might not be able to keep up physically, or that I somehow wasn’t ‘as strong’ as them so I made it my mission to prove them wrong.” Whenever she began to feel like there was no way she could do another push up, she’d think of the Disney movie Mulan, and picture herself triumphantly sitting on top of the pillar. It was her will that became her real strength.
Taking No Prisoners
Shannon knew that half the battle was about her attitude. She later said, “I came in guns blazing in order to show that I wasn’t someone that could be pushed around, brushed off, or not taken seriously. It was hard but it was also completely necessary.” She could see that other women who appeared stronger were beginning to break under the sheer pressure of boot camp. Shannon was determined to stand out only as a soldier and not as a woman.
Finding Her Place
After boot camp was over, Shannon received her commission. She would begin work as an administrative specialist, remaining in South Carolina. It seemed to be a perfect match. She was sharp witted and attuned to the needs of her office, always prompt and generally representing the values of the Marines. Even in an administrative position, Shannon felt like she was working for the greater good, and she knew the feeling was shared by everyone she was working with.
Earning A New Stripe
It wasn’t long before Shannon began to move up through the ranks of the Marine corps. After working in South Carolina for two years, she was transferred to an office in Rock Island, Illinois. Though she had enjoyed her time in South Carolina where it was certainly warmer than her hometown, she felt an invisible weight lift from her chest when she learned she would be returning to the Midwest. Finally, Shannon was coming home again.
Rock Island Blues
Shannon’s transfer wasn’t just a location transfer, but also an opportunity to try her hand in a new position. She was put on Inspector-Instructor duty, better known as I&I. She relished the leadership role she had been given, doing her utmost to serve both her country and her squad. It was clear that the other soldiers she was commanding respected her knowledge and her abilities. By the time she left the Marines, she was to have achieved the rank of sergeant.
The Unintended Consequences
There was something else Shannon discovered during her time in the Marines that she had never expected. Her fellow Marines became like her family. The bond they shared went beyond their experiences during their service. They discovered that sharing the same driving passion, the desire to help and protect their country and their families, connected them on a deeply spiritual level, even for those who weren’t otherwise spiritually connected. It was a connection that continues to pull on Shannon’s heart.
Reflections On Service
Shannon owes a lot to what she learned during her service in the Marines. In a recent interview, she reflected, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.” Shannon then added,”I became part of something that was bigger than myself and I loved it.” These lessons would make it just a bit easier to transfer back to civilian life when the time finally came.
Charting A New Course
In her final months in the Marines, Shannon decided to have a bit of a laugh and submit herself for a competition to win a place as one of Maxim’s girls next door. To her mild surprise, she was named a finalist, and it occurred to her that she might have a more glamorous career available to her, should she desire it. Shannon wasn’t ruling it out, but to be safe, she also wanted to have a more practical career as a backup.
The Opportunities Available
After her discharge date, Shannon decided to re-enroll in college. She decided to enroll in Elmhurst College where she would continue studying for her marketing degree, but Shannon now knew just what she was capable of, and added on a double major in science. In the meantime, she thought it couldn’t hurt to explore her more glamorous career options, and so she entered herself as a candidate to be the next Loop Rock Girl for a local radio station. Shannon was picked.
Before Shannon Ihrke was chosen as a Loop Rock Girl, the title usually changed from year to year, as a new girl was chosen for the honor. The radio station was so taken with Shannon’s performance that they asked her to stay on as the permanent Loop Rock Girl. Shannon was ecstatic as it allowed her to receive a steady paycheck in between her modeling jobs, while still performing similar tasks like starring in the Loop Rock Calendar.
Celebrating Her Gifts
After four years hiding herself in fatigues and ingratiating herself as “one of the guys,” Shannon loved being able to dress up for photoshoots, which only encouraged her to keep looking for more modeling work, as well as finding other opportunities to share her natural gifts. Not long after leaving the Marines, Shannon also became an MMA ring girl, which celebrated both her natural beauty as well as the hard work she put into maintaining her military inspired fitness regime.
Celebrating Their Own
How have the members of Shannon’s former squad reacted to seeing Shannon on magazine covers? She says some of them have expressed surprise, especially since they were used to her yelling at them to clean their rooms. Others she says, “Marines that I’ve worked with in the past are asking me to sign calendars and magazines for them and their friends now, and that’s kind of weird but very cool at the same time because it shows how supportive they are!”
The Role Of Faith
Not everyone was so enthusiastic about Shannon’s new career, however. Her parents weren’t too pleased with the various states of undress and suggestive poses in which their daughter was publicly photographed. In 2014, Shannon sat down with The Chicago Tribune for an interview. “My family is a very Christian and conservative family originally from a small town in Minnesota,” Shannon said. “When I started modeling, my mom said, ‘I don’t know about that.’ She wanted me to stay in the Marine Corps…”
The Need To Move On
Shannon got candid about her decision to put modeling over the military. In her Daily Mail interview she confessed, “Had I not had other dreams I still wanted to accomplish in my life I would have re-enlisted without hesitation… and although I am no longer on active duty, I will always bleed green.” No matter where her new career takes her, she will always be a Marine first, which shows in many of her favorite photographs.
Pushing Her Body
Choosing a career as a model has helped Shannon to stick to the intense fitness regime she picked up during her service. She has shared that it does take hard work and commitment to maintain her body, as she undertakes gym workouts at least four times a week. That doesn’t include the long runs she also takes. However, as a country girl, Shannon also mixes it up by horseback riding and engaging in the outdoor activities she learned with her dad in her youth.
Indulging Her Senses
It’s important to Shannon that she acts as an inspiration to girls, so she’s very open about the fact that she is incredibly athletic, in part because she likes to indulge in exciting foods. She shared, “My favorite foods include prime rib, bananas foster, french silk pie, and I’ve been known to crave a Big Mac or too! I do a lot of cooking and baking. My specialties include biscuits and gravy, BBQ pulled chicken, caramel brownies, and stuffed mushrooms!”
Not Easy After Being Green
In an interview with G.I. Jobs, Shannon discussed her switch from Marine to model, but towards the end, the discussion became quite frank. Shannon shared that it’s a difficult transition after military service. Her advice, ” A lot of people have military backgrounds nowadays so it’s important to find other things that make you stand out as well. You have to put together a great resume, work your tail off, and let any rejection you might receive motivate you instead of discourage you.
Committed To The Cause
It’s no surprise that a woman who voluntarily enlisted in the military would continue to donate her time to a variety of causes. Recently, she decided to start a charity of her own called Committed to Courage. She told Moll Magazine, “I created this charity as a way of giving back to veterans who have served and for those who are currently serving. I know how….difficult it can also be to transition back to civilian life from the military.”
Didn’t Have Expenses
What is one of the biggest difference between her civilian life and her military life? It’s mostly her expenses. She said quite suddenly she was not only making her own decisions after having the military make them for her for so many years, but that her expenses increased drastically. She said, “The only bills I had were on my car and my cell phone.” Modeling already entails a bit of hustling in order to get jobs, so it was quite a change.
Why We Fight
In her recent profile with the The Daily Mail, Shannon opened up a bit more about why she and so many others decide to join the military. She revelead that, for most, it’s not even about politics or ideals, but about their families. She revealed, “Some Marines fight for our politicians, but most, do not. We fight for our families, our friends, and most of all-for our brothers and sisters to the left and right of us in uniform.”
The Big City Life
Elmhurst College was the perfect fit for Shannon. She knew the area well from her last two years of Marine service, and it was a big enough city that she could continue to pursue her modeling career while she studied. Shannon was loving the shift from strong Marine to fit model. The discipline she learned in the military helped her tremendously as photographers knew to expect a high level of professionalism from her. It also helped her to stick to an intense fitness regime.
How Camaraderie Lingers
The effects of Shannon’s time in the Marines has not been lost on her, even though she now leads a life most soldiers never dream of having. Shannon opened up to The Daily Mail saying, “You gain a new family when you become a Marine. You live together, eat together, workout together, hang out in your spare time together, fight with each other, and yet you’ll still do anything for each other, whether you like each other or not.”
Aiming Even Higher
Though Shannon began her modeling career on a now defunct website called “Model Mayhem,” after her appearance in Maxim‘s competition, the jobs kept rolling in. In the next couple of years, she posed for Maxim a few other times, but she wasn’t only relegated to print and internet advertisements. Shannon was chosen for coveted runway shows, but she never forgot her past. Oftentimes, she would pose in patriotic garments, effectively combining the most important things in her life.
After several exciting years in Chicago, Shannon was ready to get back to her roots in Minnesota. On top of her modeling career, she began working as a horse trainer in Backus, Minnesota for a farm called Sodbuster Sawyer Ranch. Shannon often shares photos of herself with her horses on her immensely popular Instagram page, in between photos of her from professional modeling shoots, as well as throwbacks from her military days. Working on the ranch helps keep Shannon grounded in the midst of such glamour.
As Shannon’s profile was heightened through her modeling, admirers began to want more from the ex-marine. As a result, Shannon’s social media accounts started gaining a lot of attention, particularly on her Instagram. Through her beautiful pictures, Shannon earned herself over 72,000 followers. Fans loved the fact she showed off her stunning modeling pictures together with her time in the Marines, together with giving people a glimpse into her everyday life. Soon after gaining thousands of followers, Shannon realized that she could make money off her Instagram posts.
Paid To Pose
The Marine turned model attracted the attention of different brands who wanted to be associated with Shannon’s positive image and patriotic attitude, as well as her beautiful looks. One of the clothing brands she signed a deal with was named 1776 United. The link to the clothing stores website is presented on Shannon’s profile and she seemed like the perfect brand ambassador for it. The clothing displayed patriotic slogans, with the company aiming “to evoke a sense of patriotism found in our forefathers.”
An Insightful Beauty
Nowadays, there appears to be a stigma attached to modeling whereby models are considered unintelligent individuals, using their bodies to make a living. However, Shannon seems to be a prime example of a model who is not only intelligent, but incredibly strong. In addition to posting pictures of her modeling shoots on Instagram, she has often taken the time to post insightful quotes. One of which read “You’re gonna be happy,” said life “but first I’ll make you strong.” It seemed to perfectly depict Ihrke.
Women In The Marines
Shannon’s dedication to the military is that much more poignant due to the history of her position. Prior to World War II, women in the United States were not authorized to serve in the Marine Corps. It wasn’t until a year after that the U.S entered the war that they started a Women’s Reserve, resulting in it becoming the last of the services to open ranks to both genders and increasing military equality.
Dating In The Military
One of the questions that many people ask Shannon is about her dating life. The blonde bombshell was candid when asked about her romantic life and admitted that she is not prejudice when it comes to dating within the military. Shannon said, “I’m a Marine sergeant, so the answer is an absolute yes! Guys in the military are the best.” Although she didn’t reveal too much about her current relationship status, it seems she’s not afraid to keep it in the military family.
As Shannon’s profile heightened, she began landing deals with leading magazines, one of which was Sport’s Illustrated. The famed swimsuit magazine only picked the best to appear on their famous pages. Celebrities including Beyonce, Chrissy Teigen, and Kate Upton have appeared in the magazine, so the opportunity for Shannon was a huge honor. She said of her affinity for swimsuit posing: “I’m not a stick figure and I’m not too curvy, I have a very healthy, toned body type so I think that swimwear tends to be my forte.”
It is no surprise that many men have tried to snag a date with the military model. Shannon did explain that she hates pick up lines, saying “There’s no such thing as a good pickup line so why men choose to keep trying them – I’ll never know.” She admitted she doesn’t have any rules when it comes to dating but added, “Just be yourself. It’s not really rocket science. I just want to know who the person really is and whether or not we are compatible.”
Shannon described her admiration and respect for those in the armed forces and when she knew she wanted to be a part of the military, she didn’t go easy on herself. She stated, “when I heard that the Marine Corps was the toughest, I knew that was the branch I wanted to be a part of.” It was clear that Shannon recognized her new journey would be no easy feat, but she was dedicated and willing to put her life on the line for her country.
Respecting The Veterans
It was no surprise that Shannon’s story hit the press and people wanted to know who she was and how she embarked on her journey. However, Shannon was a strong woman and wasn’t going to succumb to negativity and controversial comments. When one publication referred to her as an “ex-marine”, Ihrke took to her Twitter account to hit back and express how there was no such thing as an “ex-marine,” and in fact, she was a veteran.
In The Ring
During her modeling career, Shannon was asked to become an ProElite MMA ring girl for fights in Moline, IL, followed by being signed as a ring girl for Invicta FC, an all women’s fighting organization. Although Shannon was in the ring, she was never a fighter, but wanted to get into the big leagues as a ring girl. She said she had dreams of working with UFC, adding “I want to see my face in the UFC ring at least once!”
Shannon recently took to her Instagram to show off her new beau to the world. Ihrke found love with a fellow Marine as they posed together at the 2017 Marine Corps Ball. Shannon gushed about her new man on the post, writing “How did I get so lucky?!” it seems the Marine veteran couldn’t escape her background and found a common ground in her military man. Despite not being a Marine anymore, it will always hold a special place in her heart.