The nature of covert military operations often means people keep secrets. Most of our nation’s special forces units have catchy names that are part of the pop-culture lexicon and those names need no explanation. We all know what the SEALs do. And the Green Berets. But what about those like Shannon Kent? Only now, after her death, are we learning what she did for America’s military.
Kent was killed by a suicide bombing in Syria in January. Her official title was “cryptologic technician.”
That title requires some explanation. Kent was a chief petty officer in the Navy. She worked along side SEALs, and with the NSA. And she wasn’t behind a desk. She was in the field.
Chief Kent, the New York Times writes, is proof “that for many years women have been doing military jobs as dangerous, secretive and specialized as anything men do.”
“She’d tell me, ‘You can say what you do in two words, but I have to explain over and over to people what I do, and half of them don’t believe me,’” her husband, Joe Kent, told the Times. He recently retired from 20 years of special forces work. “As the years went on, she wished she could just say, ‘Hey, I’m Joe, and I’m a Green Beret.’”
“In many ways, she did way more than any of us who have a funny green hat.”
“Her job was to go out and blend her knowledge of cryptology and sigint and humint to help the task force find the right guys to paint the ‘X’ on for a strike or a raid,” Mr. Kent added.
The Times added definitions for those of us who need them: “Cryptology is code breaking; sigint is signals intelligence, like intercepting and interpreting phone calls and other communications; humint is human intelligence, the art of persuading people, against their instincts, to provide information.”
“She understood how all the pieces came together,” her husband said. “She wasn’t just relying on local informants. She knew how to fill in the gaps through her knowledge of different intelligence capabilities. She was kind of a one-stop-shop for finding bad guys.”
That intelligence worked on multiple levels. She was a language expert, too, and spoke at least six Arabic dialects. And she had no trouble matching the physical fitness requirements set up for the men in her units.
To fully complete the paradox, Kent was also a mother. She is survived by two boys. One is three. The other is just 18 months.
On January 16, a suicide bomber struck a restaurant in Manbij, Syria. Kent and three other Americans were killed.
Kent has been “posthumously promoted to senior chief petty officer and awarded five medals and citations. The awards described her Special Operations work and also said she had been the noncommissioned officer in charge at the N.S.A.’s operations directorate for four years.”
Kent’s work overseas is just one of her contributions. While she gave her life working to help the Kurds in Syria, a group that is fielding many women fighters, Kent will also be remembered back home.
Though her work wasn’t celebrated during her lifetime, it is getting attention now. This will open doors for more women in the field and draw attention to their outstanding contributions.