When Shannon Eubanks graduated high school in Barton, Vermont, she did so surrounded by people she had grown up with for years. During her childhood, the small New England town was Eubank’s playground for a myriad of outdoor activities, such as snowboarding and hiking; and often times, her middle school class would take breaks to ski during the school day. As Eubanks would describe it, Barton was the kind of small town where everyone knew each other. Little did she know at the time, she would later surround herself with a similar close-knit group of people on a polar icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean.
The youngest of three, her parents met and married while they were waiting to go to school to become radiomen in the U.S. Coast Guard. After serving 10 years, her mother left the service, and her father retired after serving 20.
It would only seem fitting for Eubanks to follow in her parent’s footsteps. It eventually happened, but she ended up having to seek out the opportunity, rather than feeling the pressure to continue her parents’ tradition.
“I never thought I was going to join the military,” Eubanks said. “I didn’t even give it much thought growing up. My parents liked to keep their work life separate from their personal life. They never pressured me into joining the Coast Guard, but when I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, I began asking them questions.”
She considered the other military branches, but the Coast Guard appealed to her because of their lifesaving mission. Once she made the decision to enlist, Eubanks traveled six hours to visit the nearest recruiting office.
At 19 years old, Eubanks raised her right hand, took the oath of enlistment and headed to basic training in Cape May, New Jersey.
Three years later, Eubanks is now a boatswain’s mate third class petty officer stationed aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy – a 420-foot polar icebreaker homeported in Seattle and one of only two icebreakers in U.S. service. Each summer, Eubanks deploys in the Arctic with a team of scientists to assist them in conducting scientific research. As a boatswain’s mate aboard the ship, she is in charge of piloting the ship’s small boats, standing watch on the ship’s bridge and supervising a small workforce of enlisted members. With the lives and safety of her fellow shipmates at stake, it’s a responsibility Eubanks doesn’t take lightly, and it often takes her out of her comfort zone.
“Military service can be a bit of a challenge,” Eubanks said. “At times, you have to take on different personalities you wouldn’t normally display. You also have to force yourself to be more responsible because you have a more responsible role.”
Despite the serious nature of her job, Eubanks’ personality is hard to miss. She’s often heard before she’s seen by singing Simon and Garfunkel tunes or ’90s rock hits, and she wears a smile as if it were a uniform requirement. In fact, her bubbly personality earned her the nickname Giggles – a name that is memorialized on the back of her hard hat in thick, black lettering that reads “Gigls” for short.
“She’s a very bubbly person, and it radiates to those around her,” Eubanks’ supervisor, Chief Petty Officer Nathan Poppink, said. “It has a cascading effect on everyone she works with.”
However, below that infectious personality lies an ambition and drive, and her hard work has not gone unnoticed.