DUNEDIN — Zack Shannon loved the military and loved helicopters. The whole time he was growing up, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
After graduating from Dunedin High School in 2010, he joined the U.S. Army and trained to be a mechanic on UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
His friends were stunned and saddened to learn Wednesday that Shannon was killed while serving in Afghanistan, where he was deployed late last year.
"I decided to join the Army instead of go to college, but this makes me part of a proud few that stand alone," Shannon wrote in his profile on his Facebook page. "I'm not the best runner but I make up for that with my 40/40 expert marksmanship. I'm a Black Hawk mechanic and love my job."
Shannon was stationed in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. A UH-60 helicopter crash outside Kandahar killed five American service members Monday night, but it's not clear whether Shannon was in that crash. The Department of Defense has not yet released details of his death. One of Shannon's brothers posted news of his death on his own Facebook page.
Shannon's family flew Wednesday to Dover, Del., to meet his body as it is flown into the country. A handwritten note taped to the front door of their house on Wednesday asked for privacy at this time.
For at least a dozen years, the family lived on a quiet street in the Fairway Gardens neighborhood near Dunedin Country Club. There, Shannon grew up in a military family, with his older brothers serving in the armed forces, according to neighbors.
"Zack loved his country and loved the military. From the time he was a child, he knew that was the career he wanted to go into," said longtime neighbor and friend Doreen Del Corpo.
As a kid, Shannon would borrow his older brothers' military uniforms for Halloween costumes, she said.
"At Christmastime when he was deployed to Afghanistan, I asked him, 'Aren't you bummed you won't spend Christmas with your family?' His reply was, 'When I go over there, another soldier gets to come home and spend Christmas with his family.' That's just the type of guy he was — he sacrificed for others," Del Corpo said.
Another longtime neighbor, Tammy Burke, watched Shannon grow up alongside her own daughter, who is a year older.
"He was a very good kid, a very directed kid. He went into the military right after high school," Burke said. "He died doing what he loved, which was the helicopters."
Before joining the Army, Shannon was in Dunedin High's ROTC program. He also worked part-time at Advance Auto Parts on Main Street in Dunedin.
"He was upbeat and positive. He worked hard for us and never complained," said a co-worker there, Bill Peters. "He was focused. He knew what he wanted to do with his life. Once he committed to the Army, that's all he talked about."
Peters, himself an ex-Marine, had talked to Shannon about staying safe during his tour of duty, about avoiding complacency and watching out for those around him.
"I believe that's how he was — watching out for others," Peters said. "If I were to be redeployed, I would take Zack with me in a heartbeat."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151.