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July 16, 2014

Staff Sgt. Dirk Shelton: 1985-2014

Air Force member from Corbin dies

CORBIN — Staff Sergeant Dirk Shelton, a Corbin boy who dreamed big, aimed high, and served his nation with honor while working in some of the most dangerous assignments in the world, died Monday in Washington, D.C.

Shelton — who was on a training mission in Fairfax, Virginia, over the weekend —  was declared legally dead after suffering a traumatic brain injury Sunday.

He was 29.

Corbin City Commissioner Joe Shelton was Sgt. Shelton’s uncle. He said Tuesday the hero his nephew was to this nation continues with his passing.

“Dirk was an organ donor, and is presently going through the organ donor process. Because of that, he’s saving eight lives. He lived life to the fullest, and wanted others to have the gift of life,” Joe Shelton said.

Sgt. Shelton served with the United States Air Force for nine years. He was deployed six times — four to Afghanistan, and one each in Somalia and Kuwait.

He completed three combat tours in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In addition, Sgt. Shelton had been on multiple overseas missions.

On his last deployment in Afghanistan, he was awarded the Bronze Star. His other awards included the Joint Service Achievement Medal (2nd OLC), and the Air Force Achievement Medal.

Joe Shelton said news of his nephew’s passing devastated all those who knew, loved, admired and respected him.

“It’s a difficult time for our family. My nephew was a wonderful soul. His commander said Dirk was part of a highly elite service group of personnel, and that he was literally all over the world,” he noted.

Dirk Thomas Shelton was born in Corbin on June 10, 1985.

He was a Radio Frequency Transmission Journeyman assigned to the Joint Communications Unit in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

SSgt. Shelton enlisted in the Air Force on November 21, 2005, graduating from Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas on December 2 of that year.

He proceeded to technical training at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi as a Radio Frequency Transmission Apprentice. After he completed his training, Sgt. Shelton was assigned to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where he worked at the 89th Communications Squadron as a Centralized Network Control Station Radio Operator, responsible for transmitting emergency action messages, aircraft advisories, and air-to-ground high frequency telephone patches from September 2006 to June 2009.

He assessed and was selected for assignment to the Joint Communications Unit, where he spent six months as a Special Operations Radio Course Student (SOROC). Sgt. Shelton was a graduate of SOROC, the Airman Leadership School, and the Army Basic Airborne Course.

At the time of his passing, he was with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a sub-unified command of the U. S. Special Operations Command, or USSOCOM.

According to the Command’s website, they’re “charged to study special operations requirements and techniques, ensure interoperability and equipment standardization, plan and conduct special operations exercises and training, and develop joint special operations tactics.”

Made up of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians who have been rigorously screened, the website stated the men and women of JSOC “possess unique and specialized skills, and are routinely among the best in their field.”

Dirk Shelton was one of them.

One of his high school teachers always knew Dirk — a 2004 graduate of Corbin High — was made of the right stuff.

“I taught Dirk in class. He had a bright, very analytical mind. He could always answer your high-level questions, and he’d come back with questions for me that would lead to some great classroom conversations,” said John Crawford, now Corbin High School’s principal.

In an interview Tuesday, Crawford noted Dirk always dreamed of having a military career.

“He was the type of person who believed in God, his country and his family, and he personified that in the military. My understanding is that Dirk’s commander and his unit are with the Shelton family now in Washington, D. C. His commander continues to praise Dirk’s dedication and service, saying Dirk’s a very heroic and brave guy who had been in some difficult, dangerous situations. His commander added that Dirk was ‘The elite of the elite,’” he pointed out.

Crawford mentioned a conversation he had with a classmate of Dirk Shelton’s recently. He said the classmate and Dirk were planning on attending their 10-year Corbin High class reunion next month.

“He was just a fine representative of Corbin, and all our town should really be proud of him. It’s a real sad day for us. Dirk will truly be missed,” he said.

Said Joe Shelton of his nephew, “He’s had a tremendous outpouring of support from the Corbin community. We’ve literally been inundated with text messages, emails, phone calls and personal condolences from friends, and that doesn’t go unnoticed. We really understand our community’s a great place to live, and that’s how you end up with children like Dirk.”

Along with his uncle, SSgt. Dirk Shelton is survived by his wife, Maria, who is also in the Air Force and is stationed at Fort Bragg. Friends said the two met each other while in the military.

His father Tom, mother Jenny, and sister Morgan, also survive. All three live in Corbin.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.

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