Who keeps track of our history?

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brooke Spenner

Everyone has had a history class before, and some have wondered who writes the history, who keeps track of all of these events? The Air Force has their own unique way of tracking history, we know them as historians. 

Recording history of the 932nd Airlift Wing and its Reserve Citizen Airmen’s actions in the Air Force is the job of Ms. Shannon M. Murphy. 

The duties of a historian include collecting and preserving information in both peace and war time, reviewing emblem submission request packages, and researching/analyzing historical archives for reports. Additionally she is charged with promoting awareness of Air Force heritage and supporting Professional Military Education. 

“I have always loved history. When it came time to pick a focus for my undergrad, I went based off what was on my bookshelves. Histories filled shelves and always left me curious enough to dig more. I love finding things as I read through our old histories at the 932nd.”

Murphy, from Federal Way, Washington, enlisted from Houston, Texas in the Air Force in February 2001. She served as a Command Post Controller Airman at Misawa Air Base, Japan; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and Scott Air Force Base, Ill. During that time she deployed twice in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. 

She earned her Associates Degree from the CCAF in 2009 while on active duty, and completed most of her Bachelor’s Degree on active duty and in the Reserves. She graduated with her Bachelor’s of Arts in History from UMUC six months after honorably separating from the Air Force.   

After separating from the Air Force in 2014 she utilized her education benefits and earned her Bachelor’s degree in History from University of Maryland University College in 2014. She then pursued her Master’s degree in Military History from Norwich University, graduating in 2020. 

“I never considered becoming a historian, until my dad died in January 2013; I wished I had more time, but I wished more that I had more stories, more evidence of his life, especially his time in the Navy. Then in December 2015, I lost a close friend I had worked with in the Command Post; he had transferred to the New York Air National Guard in the years since our long shifts together. He was killed in Afghanistan, while on patrol, leaving behind his wife and young daughter.”

Murphy, a proud Scott Air Force Base alumni, began her job search in early 2020, which led her to the 932nd AW. The 932nd had been searching for a historian since 2017, the position had previously been filled by Traditional Reservists, some of whom were trained historians, many of whom were former Public Affairs personnel. Continuity has long been an issue for a strong history program.

And, the rest, as they say, is history. She started as the 932nd AW Historian in August 2020.

“Capturing stories of our daily actions, the mundane and the exciting and the terrible and the heartbreaking – is what I am meant to do with my life. I want records of everything, to write what happened, and to be properly archived. So that families can reach out and find a part of their loved ones’ life they did not know much about. For my friend’s daughter to know who her dad was and what he contributed. For my own family history.”

Without historians, our unit’s unique history would be lost to time, existing in legend but absent from source materials. The cliché of “history repeats itself” is not a saying she uses or encourages. Often attributed to Mark Twain, the saying “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” is a constant reminder that each event, occasion, or person has their own distinctive characteristics, in their own context. History is not a Magic 8-Ball (“Try Again”), but valuable lessons to become familiar with how similar situations were handled. At the very least, why certain things worked, and others didn’t. 

Murphy will analyze and synchronize history to assess and report on historical aspects of current issues, and the wing’s ability to benefit from past experiences and lessons learned, and share that information with Airman to keep history from repeating itself.