Zack Shannon loved being a U.S. soldier.
He grew up the youngest of four military brothers in Fairway Estates. The "true, blue American kid," followed in his brothers' footsteps, enlisting in the U.S. Army immediately after graduating from Dunedin High School's Navy JROTC program in 2010, said Ron Wilson, his former commander at Dunedin High.
His devotion to service proudly displayed in his Facebook profile:
i decided to join the army instead of go to college.but this makes me part of a proud few that stand alone. [...] im a blackhawk mechanic and love my job. [...] i cant wait to get home.
But Spc. Zack Shannon gave the ultimate sacrifice at age 21 when his helicopter went down in the Daman district of Kandahar, Afghanistan, on March 11. He was just a few months into a 9-month deployment attached to 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division out of Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, GA.
The Army has not yet released official information about the incident, but Reuters reports from officials that no enemy activity was in the area at the time.
A commanding officer in Zack's squadron shed light on the tragedy and expressed sympathies to families and friends keeping tabs of deployed loved ones via Facebook on March 13.
The update indicates that Zack was one of five soldiers who died that day and may have volunteered to be part of the fatal flight.
...we suffered the loss of five heroes from across Task Force Falcon; three of these heroes were part of Task Force Lighthorse. ...The pain of their loss is strong but the memory of their lives and of their service and sacrifice will be a source of strength to those who knew them best. These heroes performed their duties selflessly, giving more than expected or required and graciously volunteered to serve during this time.
Zack and Wilson, his retired high school commander, went to lunch a few times after he enlisted. They talked about how much he liked his job and how much he loved working on UH-60 Blackhawks.
Wilson also taught Zack's older brother Steve Shannon, and said he felt instantly close to the younger brother when he came into the program.
He was a good kid from a strong family with a "down home, country" way about him that instantly put people at ease "in all situations." When he wasn't in the community, NJROTC activities, he was working part-time at Advance Auto Parts.
He was one of those kids that knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life, Wilson said.
"It's very seldom you have a teenager like that," Wilson said during a telephone interview with Dunedin Patch.
Zack updated his Facebook status before his helicopter went down, sharing how excited he was that his crew chief was allowing him to fly, Wilson said.
"Zack was a natural born leader and a stellar soldier who died doing what he truly loved," family friend Miles Springer said shortly before driving to meet with the family Thursday afternoon.
Springer said he's known Zack since he was little. The family is touched by the outpouring of support, he said.
Kim Allison, Zack's mother, and Chip, his step-father, just were returning from meeting Zack in Delaware as he touched down on U.S. soil, inside an American flag-draped casket.
Robert Mirrione, one of Zack's brothers, is due to arrive from his Naval base in Seattle. His other brothers Joe Mirrione and Steve Shannon, an Army National Guard member, live in Dunedin.
It's rare to have all the boys home at one time, Springer said.
Editor's Note: Memorial services are not yet announced as of the publication of this story.
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[Last Updated Friday, March 22, 2013, 10:53 a.m.]