She Didn’t Expect To Become A Marine, But What She Did After Took Everyone By Surprise

As a full-time college student with two part-time jobs during the recession, Shannon Ihrke felt that her future was hopeless. Looking for a way out of unpayable debt, Ihrke was driven to the U.S. Marine Corps. Many doubted that the blonde bombshell would even make it out of boot camp, but that only pushed Ihrke to prove them all wrong. After climbing the ranks and becoming “one of the guys,” Ihrke left the Marines and did something no one could believe.

From A Small Town In Minnesota

Shannon Ihrke grew up in a small town called Walker, in the northern part of central Minnesota. Growing up around nature, Ihrke spent her childhood horseback riding, fishing, hunting, and boating, all the while gaining skills very few girls her age had.

With know-how like this, it was easy for her to become “one of the guys.” Little did she know, these skills would come in handy one day in ways she couldn’t possibly imagine.

To A Working Student In The City

Growing up with a modest upbringing, Shannon Ihrke knew that she was ready for a change after graduating high school. She moved closer to the city when she enrolled at St. Cloud University for college, where she decided to pursue a marketing degree.

Like many young college students, Ihrke needed some cash to support herself and ended up taking on two jobs while going to school. Unfortunately, both jobs were hardly enough to pay her bills.

The Job Market Was Looking Dim

Working two jobs while attending college full-time is hard enough. It can be even more difficult to keep going if you felt like all your work wasn’t going anywhere.

“[My] manager at the clothing store where I was working had a law degree…. it was the recession – and I thought if she has a law degree and is working at a clothing store, there aren’t going to be any jobs for me when I graduate college,” Ihrke told Fox News.

Her College Counselor Gave Her An Idea

Worried that she would end up with no job and lots of debt, Ihrke went to her college counselor for advice. Thankfully they gave her a lightbulb idea.

“[The counselor] told me two people get college completely paid for – single moms and those in the military. I thought, well… [the first one] is out. But I thought about the military and so I went to a recruiting fair,” she told Fox News.

The Marine Corps Caught Her Eye

“I decided to research the different branches [of the military], and a Marine Corps recruiter caught me on the way out from talking to an Air Force recruiter,” Ihrke told Yahoo! Lifestyle.

When people see an attractive young woman like Ihrke, she’d be the last person you think you’d see at a recruiting fair for the military. Still, she was taken aback by what the Marine recruiter told her, which ultimately helped her decide what to do.

The Recruiter Doubted That Ihrke Would Make It

The Marine Corps recruiter took one look at Ihrke and basically told her she wouldn’t make it. She was told that their boot camp was twice as hard as all the other branches.

“He explained how tough the program is and said, ‘A girl like you probably wouldn’t make it through boot camp in the Marine Corps.’ …I took that as a challenge and asked, ‘Where do I sign up?’” she told Yahoo! Lifestyle.

She Was Off To Boot Camp

After signing up to join the U.S. Marine Corps, Shannon Ihrke was shipped off to South Carolina for boot camp. For three strenuous months, Ihrke was trained in various fields, including mixed martial arts and rifle training.

The rigorous training turned out to be one of the toughest experiences of her life, both physically and mentally, but she did whatever she could to prove to everyone that she could do it.

It Was Hard, But She Loved Boot Camp

Ihrke ended up loving the experience of boot camp and as it turned out, she had more support than she thought.

“When I got back I was just like, ‘I loved boot camp.’ I walked straight up to the recruiter and told him and he goes, ‘Oh yeah, I knew you’d be fine.’ I was stunned, but he told me he knew I had an alpha personality, and would do well,” she told Fox News.

Ihrke Found Boot Camp Empowering

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If anything, Ihrke looks back on her time at boot camp as an empowering experience, especially as a woman. “I loved pushing myself. I realized how mentally and physically strong I really am, and it was an empowering feeling… I had drill instructors that were beautiful, smart women. They were amazing – and it motivated me even more,” she told Yahoo! Lifestyle.

But despite this, things weren’t easy when she joined the ranks of her male counterparts.

“You Have To Work Twice As Hard To Be Seen As An Equal”

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“When people think of a Marine, they expect to see a man, but when I showed up to my unit, some people automatically thought that because I was a woman, I wouldn’t be able to keep up or be as good,” she told Yahoo! Lifestyle.

She continued, “So my goal was always to push myself to be as good if not better to show them you can be on the same level.”

Ihrke Knew She Had To Show Her Alpha Personality

Ihrke quickly learned that one of the toughest parts about military life is your mental strength. When she graduated boot camp and was assigned to her first unit, Ihrke knew what she had to do.

“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 told Daily Mail.

Ihrke Wanted To Prove Them All Wrong

“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,” she told Daily Mail.

Ihrke reportedly started out as an administrative specialist stationed in South Carolina. She approached her service with determination and a go-getter attitude. Soon, her hard work would pay off as she quickly ascended military ranks.

She Was Able To Stay Close To Home

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Eventually, Ihrke was transferred to Rock Island, Illinois, which allowed her to be closer to home. One of the hardest parts about military life is being away from loved ones, but thankfully, Ihrke was close enough to home that she wouldn’t have to miss too many great family milestones.

All the while, she continued to excel in her position as a Marine, achieving a feat that not all Marines can say they’ve done in two years.

Ihrke Was Promoted In No Time

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In two years, Ihrke’s hard work landed her a promotion. “I was meritoriously promoted from E1 to E4,” she told Yahoo! Lifestyle. Irkhe ascended from private, to private first class, to lance corporal in two short years, which some people can’t even achieve in four.

As an E4, Ihrke also had increased leadership responsibilities. She was reportedly on Inspector-Instructor duty, but her new role in the Marines wasn’t the only thing she excelled at.

One Of Many Skills She Excelled At

As a Marine, Ihrke proved herself to be a sharpshooter. It was a skill that she had actually been working on since she was still living with her parents growing up.

“I always liked shooting guns. I grew up shooting guns with my dad, which is part of the reason I did so well in the rifle range when I was in the Marines,” she told Yahoo! Lifestyle. Growing up in the Midwest, using guns wasn’t something that was beyond her.

Ihrke Eventually Became A Sergeant

By 2016, Ihrke had achieved the rank of a sergeant. “It’s kind of natural to judge a book by its cover… But then, it makes you want to be as good, if not better than those people to show that you can keep up and you are equal,” she told Yahoo! Lifestyle.

But four years into the military, Ihrke knew she still had other interests she wanted to pursue, one of them being the completion of her college degree.

Ihrke’s Service Made A Difference

After going through a moment of doubt in college, Shannon Ihrke knew that enlisting in the Marines was possibly the best thing she could have done for herself.

“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem,” she told Daily Mail. Still, Ihrke was destined to accomplish so much more and what she did next was even more surprising.

Ihrke Started Modeling On The Side

Around the time she was promoted to sergeant, Ihrke began dabbling in modeling. Within her last six months of service, she started going out to photo shoots. Since she was still on active duty, she had to get clearance to attend the photoshoots on the weekends.

Ihrke has said that modeling was something she’s always wanted to do and when she started, she knew that she had something going for her in the field.

The Magazine Cover That Changed Everything

One day, Ihrke decided to enter a modeling contest put on by Maxim magazine.

Maxim was having this contest called ‘Hometown Hotties,’ and I sent in my pictures. I never thought I would win… Once [I made] the final 10, they flew me out to Vegas for another shoot. And when they found out I was military, they said they wanted to do another special shoot with me,” she told Fox News.

“Saluting And Being Flirty Don’t Go Together”

Though her Maxim cover was a hit with her fellow veterans, many questioned Ihrke’s “irregular salute.” She explained while she did a proper one, the photographers wanted something more.

“[The] Maxim team wanted me to do a salute but still make it flirty and fun at the same time. At first, I did a normal, correct salute but it wasn’t working for them so they asked me [to] change it up a bit,” she told G.I. Jobs.

Ihrke Went Back To School After She Was Discharged

Ihrke decided to take on modeling full-time and was honorably discharged from the Marines after four years of service. She was able to complete her degree and graduated from Elmhurst College with a bachelor’s in marketing.

Thanks to the GI Bill, Ihrke was able to finish college without any debt, which was her main concern in the first place. If not for that, she wouldn’t have joined the Marines, so it’s as if everything came full circle.

Ihrke’s Lucky Break

Meanwhile, Ihrke kept going after modeling opportunities. She entered the annual Loop Rock Girl competition, put on by Chicago’s biggest classic rock radio station.

“I ended up winning the competition, and when it got close to my term being over, the station asked if instead of me being the ‘2013 Loop Rock Girl’ that I remain the Loop Rock Girl from here on out! I was able to turn a temporary gig into my permanent job!” she told G.I. Jobs.

The Loop Rock Girl Gained A Huge Following

Being the Loop Rock Girl full-time has helped Ihrke establish herself as a model. Through her shoots and appearances at events, she has gained quite a following.

“Every year I make a new Loop Rock Girl calendar, model for lots of photo shoots, attend tons of radio station events, maintain my social media accounts as well as create a weekly blog, I talk on our station’s morning show regularly… It’s honestly the best job,” she told G.I. Jobs.

Ihrke Could Finally Embrace Her Girly Side

Ihrke is clearly embracing the beauty that she was born with. After being in the Marines for so long, it felt like she could finally open up a different side of herself.

“After being in the Marine Corps for four years and not really getting to dress up much, not wearing makeup, having your hair pulled back every day… it’s fun to feel glamorous and show another side of me,” she told G.I. Jobs.

Her Fellow Marines Still Have Her Back

As a model, Ihrke still thinks of friends from the Corps. Many can’t believe that the sergeant who used to yell at them is now a bombshell on the cover of Maxim.

“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!” she told G.I. Jobs.

Her Parents Weren’t Keen On Her New Gig

Not everyone was supportive of Ihrke’s new job, however. Her own parents weren’t pleased to see their daughter in such racy shoots.

“My family is a very Christian conservative family originally from a small town in Minnesota. When I started modeling, my mom said, ‘I don’t know about that.’ She wanted me to stay in the Marine Corps. They’re super-supportive now. My dad took pictures of himself holding a stack of the [Maxim] magazines.”

Ihrke Knew She Had To Try Something New

Ihrke knew that she had to follow her dreams, otherwise she might regret not even having tried. Still, she acknowledges that the Marines Corps has forever shaped her life and she will never forget it.

“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,” she told New York Post.

The Marine Corps Will Always Be Her Family

When she looks back on life in the Marine Corps, Ihrke remembers her fellow Marines as the best part about the Corps. She considers them family.

“It’s a family in every sense of the word. You live together, eat together, workout together, hang out on your spare time together, fight with each other, and you’ll still do anything for each other whether you like each other or not,” she told G.I. Jobs.

Ihrke Still Trains As Hard As A Marine

As a Marine, Ihrke was accustomed to working out on a regular basis, which has certainly benefitted her modeling career. She reflected that when she started out as a Marine, she pushed her body harder than she ever has.

As a model, she adheres to a regular exercise schedule, as well as horseback riding. “I love running and working out – I’ve always been an athlete. If I’m not training horses, I’m at the gym,” she told Yahoo! Lifestyle.

Forget About Dieting

Ihrke may have a rigorous training schedule to maintain her body for modeling, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know how to live a little. Though she works out four times a week, she doesn’t stick to any diets.

“My [favorite] foods include prime rib, bananas foster, french silk pie, and I’ve been known to crave a Big Mac or [two]! I do a lot of cooking and baking,” she told Daily Mail.

Ihrke Is Involved With Military Charities

As a veteran, the U.S. Marines will always have a place in Ihrke’s heart. Being a spokesmodel, Ihrke often works with military charities as a way to keep in touch with that side of herself.

“I’m still involved in several military charities and work closely with the Chicago Marine Corps Foundation, which supports giving scholarships to kids that have dads or moms that were wounded or passed away in the military,” she told Fox News.

Ihrke Has Taken Up Horse Training, Too

Outside of modeling and her reign as Chicago’s Loop Rock Girl, Ihrke lives a more low-key life. She’s gone back to her small town roots in Minnesota, where she trains horses full-time. She also works with her county sheriff’s department’s “horse posse.”

“I have about six horses right now, and I am training for roping competitions,” she told Yahoo! Lifestyle. If anything, it’s just another way that she keeps fit for all of her modeling endeavors.

The Transition To Civilian Life Was Difficult

Though it may seem like Ihrke’s transition from Marine to model was seamless, she admits that it wasn’t that easy. It was hard to make her own decisions after being told what to do all the time.

“The Marine Corps decided where I lived and for how long, how much I made, where I ate, when to work out… Civilian life forces you to make your own decisions, and that was really hard for me,” she told G.I. Jobs.

She Tells Veterans Not To Get Discouraged

Ihrke has also commented on the misconception that life is easy for young veterans entering a regular job. Ihrke knows that while there are benefits that come with being a veteran, a lot of what happens afterward is completely up to you.

“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,” she told G.I. Jobs.

“I Became Part Of Something Bigger Than Myself And I Loved It”

Ihrke has said that her time in the Marine Corps has shaped her life. Although it was grueling at first, she persevered, remembering who she was really doing it all for.

“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,” she told Daily Mail.