The landscape was dusty, gray, desolate. And it was hot; “hotter than you can describe.” Nothing grew. On the rare occasion that it did rain, the water was not absorbed into the soil; it just pooled on top of the ground, creating the appearance of wet concrete. This is how First Lieutenant Jonathan (JP) Shannon, ’14, remembers Iraq.

Shannon, who was recently awarded the Bronze Star Medal for “superior leadership and dedication to duty,” was deployed in Iraq from Dec. 2015 through early Sept. 2016—his first deployment in the Middle East.

Stationed first at Baghdad International Airport, Shannon oversaw all incoming freight. When planes loaded with vehicles, armaments, and equipment would arrive, Shannon and his unit would take possession of the cargo from the Air Force. Every piece had to be counted, catalogued, and inspected, and all documents verified, before Shannon could sign for the shipment. Once all of the inspecting and processing was done, the unit would head out to deliver the cargo to the appropriate airport compound.

Baghdad International Airport is a fully regulated, civilian airport, a headquarters for Iraqi army units, and a US military station. To drive a military tactical vehicle from one side of the airport to the other takes about half an hour, including stops at checkpoints along the way.

When Shannon and the unit would reach their destination, they would verify the recipient and negotiate the delivery. Shannon remembers tensions running high when recipients claimed the cargo was damaged or short but says it was his and his unit’s duty to be firm.

Fifteen to sixteen hour days

While deployed, Shannon typically worked 15 to 16 hour days, six days a week. On his day off, he would sleep in, but after that, start back to work. Putting in 10 to 11 hours on his day off, Shannon could log more than 100 hours in a week.

“That much was going on,” Shannon says of the massive workload and limited number of staff available.

“I was never the best student in college, but I remember a particular class discussion on the servant-leader,” Shannon says.

Shannon gives an example of the servant-leader as someone who sees a broom and starts sweeping without being asked or required to. This person, he says, can inspire others to follow suit.

Shannon says that the hours he put in encouraged his soldiers and noncommissioned officers, who would often work long hours alongside of him. For Shannon, this was a point of pride.

“Our organization became renowned for what we were able to accomplish in short amounts of time,” he says.

When asked if his dedicated work ethic helped him earn the Bronze Star Medal, he agrees, but adds, “I was very lucky to have the soldiers and noncommissioned officers that I did.”

“This is their award,” Shannon says. “I was just doing my job.”

Returning home

Shannon and his unit were stationed at the Kuwait-Iraq border for the final three months of their deployment. That summer, temperatures soared to 129 degrees Fahrenheit, and Shannon was surrounded by gray.

“You miss green so much,” Shannon says. When Shannon stepped off the plane in the United States, he remembers being stunned by the verdant landscape.

Shannon says his adjustment to life at home has been easier than many infantry and cavalry soldiers who witness many traumas, but he’s still adjusting to having free time and weekends.

While waiting for his next assignment, Shannon is planning training, starting a new job in his battalion, and learning new skills.

He says that when he left for his deployment, he still thought of himself as a kid in some ways. He no longer thinks that way. He works harder; he understands America’s role as part of a global community and recognizes fully how many resources we have in the United States compared to many people throughout the world.

“I am a combat veteran. That’s a label that sticks with you for sure.”