MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan, June 7, 2017 — One … Two … Three … He counts each detainee as they enter his unit’s prison camp in Iraq.

“We were doing a head count; in-processing new members,” Air Force Tech. Sgt. Shannon Hutto, a 35th Security Forces Squadron flight chief here, said. “Then I heard a thump.”

He looked up to see a rocket shimmering overhead and heading in his direction.


“It landed about 30 feet from me,” he said.

Hutto grabbed his M-9 Beretta pistol from its holster after spotting the detainees and realizing they were running in the direction of the gate.

“I’m going to have to shoot them all,” he thought, but then he realized where they were going and reholstered his weapon. “They were helping their friends and family, assessing the injured and finding ways to triage and help.”

Looking around, Hutto found only three or four other U.S. service members not hiding under barriers crying in horror and shock. He grabbed them, told them where to go, what they needed and what needed to be done to start saving lives.

“You don’t realize how important self-aid buddy care is until you’re strapping on some medical latex gloves, blood everywhere — on you, your patient, the ground — and you’re saving people,” he said. “I practiced what I learned at Basic Military Training on every person I could find.”

Leading Under Fire

Hutto said it was in that moment he realized he was meant to lead.

“I was an airman first class back then, but it was in that one single act that let me know I can do this — I can be a leader,” he said.

Hutto joined the Air Force June 7, 2005. He said he wanted to see the world, get an education and serve his country. Coming from small-town life in Enterprise, Alabama, he said, “I didn’t want to just sit around and get in trouble — I needed structure — I needed a life.”

Twelve years later, his list of medals is likely double that of most in his squadron, but he’s got a story for each — he’ll be the retired veteran that kids flock to for war stories.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” he laughed as he looked to the floor, eyes glazing and finally found the strength to say, “But I do have some stories; many of which I wouldn’t share with kids.”

Hutto said he’s learned training saves lives.

“I’ve seen a lot of tragedy, and it occurs due to a lack of drive and training,” he explained. “We need to really focus on hands-on, tangible and operational training that makes us more effective, increasing our productivity.”

Set the Bar High

All that training takes strong leaders willing to set the bar high above the comfort level of their subordinates, Hutto said, adding that leaders should never be afraid to hold their people accountable.

“Just be honest with them,” he continued. “Effective leadership is not defined by making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes. This is why I mold defenders to perform under pressure with hands-on training and leadership by example.”

He’s got the experience; with three deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, all of which were between eight and 11 months long, far exceeding the Air Force-standard, six-month deployment.

“Hopefully none of my airmen will ever have to experience what I’ve gone through, but if they do, then I am positive they’ll be ready,” he said.

Deployments, temporary assignments and permanent changes of station all epitomize the life of a service member. Hutto’s seen more combat than most airmen see in their entire career, and spent months at a time, totaling years, away from his four daughters and wife, Air Force Staff Sgt. Melanie Hutto.

“Not only is he setting an example for his airmen, but he’s setting an example for our daughters as well,” Melanie said as a big smile swept across her face. “He’s always been there for us, even when he couldn’t physically be with us.”

Hutto said it’s his kids who helped him prioritize his life.

“You start figuring out what’s most important,” he said as he explained his morning routine of bottling milk, changing diapers, adding, “It’s all about finding a path and getting ready for the next stage in life.”

A Rough Start

His first few years of Air Force life included nonjudicial punishment, copious piles of paperwork and, finally, the realization that he realized he just needed to slap himself and wake up.

“As an airman, I did things the hard way,” Hutto explained, lamenting how his technical school military training leader told him he’d never make it past his first enlistment. “But look at me now, I’m about to put on master sergeant, I’ve got a loving wife, daughters, friends [and], family and subordinates who respect me. You live, you learn and push forward.”

The Air Force expects its leaders to build airmen capable of adapting to evolving Air Force mission capabilities while being an active, visible leader. Whether on patrol, at his squadron or at home, Hutto inspires others to be leaders.

“He’s my inspiration,” Melanie said as she glances down at her own rank. “I’ve got to catch up with him, so I’m always learning from my husband how to be a better Air Force leader.”

But at the end of the day, Hutto said it’s about his family first and foremost.

“My whole life is about making the lives of my children better.”