Model and horse trainer Shannon Ihrke joined the United States Marine Corps 10 years ago — and even though she left active duty in 2012 to focus on her other passions, the blonde bombshell credits the armed forces with giving her life direction.
“I loved it. Absolutely loved it,” Ihrke said in an exclusive interview with Fox News. “When I joined, it was 2008 and I was unsure of where I wanted to go, directionwise. I was working two jobs and going to college at the same time, and I just did not know what I wanted to do.”
The Minnesota native said her light-bulb moment for joining the armed forces was while working at one of her part-time jobs at a clothing store.
“I was working two jobs to afford college, and my manager at the clothing store where I was working had a law degree. And I just thought — 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.”
Concerned about debt, Ihrke said she approached her college counselor to ask about funding.
“[The counselor] told me two people get college completely paid for — single moms and those in the military,” Ihrke said.
“I thought, well … [the first one] is out,” she remembers. “But I thought about the military and so I went to a recruiting fair. The Marines were one of the first people I talked to.”
Though Ihrke said she does not come from a military background, she was intrigued by the armed forces. And after a recruiter from the Marines told her she would not last — claiming the Marines' boot camp was twice as hard as other branches — she knew she had to prove herself.
“When I was talking to the Marine Corps recruiters, they said, 'Ours is twice as hard. You probably [would not] make it through our boot camp anyway. A little girl like you wouldn’t make it,'” she recalled. “So I said, ‘Where can I sign up?’”
A week later, Ihrke was at boot camp pushing herself harder than ever — and loving it.
“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,’” Irhke said with a laugh. “I was stunned, but he told me he knew I had an alpha personality, and would do well.”
Ihrke, who was stationed in South Carolina, explains that once she got into the military, she loved it. And if it had not been for her desire to pursue other passions, she would have reenlisted.
During the final six months of her active duty, Ihrke said she started dabbling in modeling — getting clearance to leave some weekends for modeling shoots — which led her to Maxim.
“Maxim was having this contest called ‘Hometown Hotties,’ and I sent in my pictures,” she said. “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.”
To her surprise, Ihrke said she didn’t hear from Maxim again … only found out about landing the magazine cover after a friend called her at six in the morning.
“My friend was at the airport and he called me and said, ‘Congratulations on getting the Maxim cover.’ And I was just stunned. I had no idea.”
“I was freaking out!” Ihrke said, adding that she ran to the nearest bookstore and bought every copy it had.
Since her cover, Ihrke has done runway, catalog and print modeling, and served as a spokesmodel for Chicago’s radio station The Loop for five years. But even though Ihrke was enjoying modeling for various outlets, she still held the military close to her heart. So when photographer Thomas Prusso reached out to do a tactical-themed calendar shoot, she was all for it.
Ihrke said she flew out and participated in the calendar, which is available to order through her own social media channels.
“It was a lot of fun. I still love the Marine Corps and think it gave me a lot of direction and am glad that I did it,” she said.
“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 added.