There are pivotal moments in a person’s life that lead them to where they are today. Some moments test peoples’ abilities, emotions and strengths to the extreme, making success all the more triumphant. The mature decisions Ebony Shannon, 86th Medical Group training instructor, had to make at a very young age have validated her strength.
Shannon knew from the time she was a child what her future would hold. Unlike many children her age, she didn’t want to be a princess or pop star. Her greatest desire was to become a doctor.
“When I was 4 years old, I used to sit in front of the television and watch every ‘ER,’” said Shannon, referring to the medical television show. “I was going to be a doctor. I realized I was so engrossed with this television show because I watched it as an escape from what I called my nightmare.”
Shannon’s childhood was not ideal. When she was just an infant, her father gave her away to any family who would take her.
Shannon said her father said, “You are needed, not loved. You are property, not desire. Since you’re property, I can give you away.”
That is just what Shannon’s father did. It took her mother four days to find her because her father drove three counties away and gave her to a stranger. Shannon constantly felt worthless. It contributed to her self-doubt and lack of confidence. She knew she wanted to be somebody, but didn’t know if it could be done.
“My first real boyfriend was the first man to ever show me love,” Shannon said. “He was the first person to ever look me in the eyes and tell me I’m beautiful, and I’m going to be somebody one day. So, like most teenagers, I made teenage decisions. I skipped love; I skipped marriage and went right to a baby carriage.”
With the pregnancy, Shannon felt as though she was now a step further from her dream of becoming a doctor. She had to make a decision — her dreams or her child’s life.
“I had this baby growing inside of me who deserved a fair chance,” Shannon said. “I had to decide if I was going to choose myself or this child. That day I decided my life is really not my own.”
Shannon knew she had to do something in order for her and her son to survive. She knew there would be sacrifices to be made so her son would never have to feel the effects of being born to a teenage mother.
“At 17, I joined the Air Force,” Shannon said. “I’ll never forget leaving for basic training. While I was sitting on the other side of security waiting for the shuttle, I heard my soon-to-be 2-year-old son saying, ‘Mommy come back.’ I remember thinking, how do I leave my child? As I boarded the shuttle, I knew this was the best thing for us.”
When training felt too tough and lack of sleep seemed unbearable, Shannon kept her sights clear and emotions minimal.
“I used to tell the girls in my flight our sports bras were our treasure chests because it was the only place the (military training instructors) couldn’t check,” she said. “So, I kept my son’s picture next to my heart. Whenever I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore (or) I was too tired, I would put my hand on my heart and know why I was there.”
Getting through basic training was a big accomplishment and gave her a new sense of pride and confidence.
“I got to my first duty station and was proud,” Shannon said. “I was 19 years old, I had my baby, and I felt like I was proving everyone who had doubted me wrong. I was going to be somebody. The next pivotal moment happened in (technical) school. My instructors heard me talking and said, ‘Ebony, you’re so smart. If you have it in you, you can go to medical school while you’re in (technical) school. We’ll allow you to enroll into classes in the evenings.’ Everyone knows that doesn’t happen.”
This first glimmer of hope showed Shannon that even though her dream of becoming a doctor would be difficult, it was still possible. Without hesitation, Shannon enrolled and quickly realized her schedule was very busy and extremely stressful.
“Working 12-hour shifts and having to go to school at night at 19 years old cannot be done without a support system,” Shannon said. “I’ll never forget the day a young man, Robert Shannon, walked into my house with one of my friends. He would come around whenever I needed anything. I will be forever grateful for this man because he was my support system.”
Her friend’s support would continue even after becoming her husband. He was especially supportive of her desire to become a doctor and knew she wasn’t doing what she really wanted at the moment.
“He told me, ‘You know what, Ebony, you’re in the service, but I believe in you. It’s time for you to separate and focus on your education. It’s time for you to be that person we know you can be.’ So that’s what I did. I (joined the Palace Chase program).”
Shannon focused on getting her education and would eventually end up at Ramstein with her husband.
“I am thankful for my husband because I got my education,” she said. “I moved through my bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees. I didn’t know where I was going to end up with all this education, but I ended up at the medical group.”
Being a training instructor for the 86th MDG put her foot in the door and gave her the ability to observe and learn more about the medical field. She didn’t give up on her dream of becoming a doctor, and once again, there was someone who saw potential in her.
“Maj. Jeffrey Schuler saw something in me I never did,” Shannon said. “He said to me, ‘There’s this program for you. If you have it in you, you should apply. It’s hard. You’ll probably kick me for making you do it, but I believe you can.’ Even though I didn’t make it the first year, he pushed me again to do it the second year.”
If Shannon hadn’t tried again, it’s possible she would have missed her chance. She took advantage of her window of opportunity and finally reached her ultimate dream — a goal she had set at the age of 4.
“My recruiter called me,” Shannon said. “He said to me, ‘Hello, Mrs. Ebony. Oh, I’m sorry. Hello, Lieutenant Shannon. Welcome back to the United States Air Force. You will be serving in the Medical Service Corps.’ Two days later, I got a call from my career adviser from school. He said to me, ‘Congratulations. Your Ph.D. has been approved. Welcome to the Ph.D. program.’ In one week, I received two lifetime goals. In one week, I figured out I could still be a doctor. My dream had come true.”
From a traumatizing childhood to living out her greatest aspiration, Shannon is a true success story. She proves when obstacles stand in the way of your desires, you can conquer them and never let them keep you from your full potential.
“I say to anybody who is going through anything, if you ever look up and see one door has closed, don’t give up,” she said. “There will always be a window open somewhere.”