September 10, 2020
Cottage Grove Sentinel
You never know what opportunity is around the corner.”
Col. Kirsten M. Palmer
A United States Air Force retirement ceremony was held August 2, 2020, at McChord Field, Washington, in honor of Colonel Kirsten M. Palmer for her 25 years of service.
In attendance were her husband, retired Lt. Col. Roger Lang, her daughter Addyson (11), son Archer (18 mo.), her parents Ron and Linda Palmer, brother Matt Palmer and multiple Air Force members who had recently served with her at McChord Field.
Kirsten’s career dreams began in an 8th grade science class at Lincoln Middle School. Studying the stars and planets of our solar system, installed in her a desire for space travel as an astronaut.
Her retired Air Force uncle recommended the following path to follow after graduating from CGHS in 1991: “First, become a pilot. Do that by joining the Air Force and attending the Air Force Academy.” Kirsten set the plan in motion, applied and was accepted at the Academy.
At a summer program at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, Kirsten changed her mind about being a pilot. She spent three weeks shadowing young officers in different career fields that increased her horizons.
She says, “I spent a day with an aircraft maintenance officer and immediately knew that was the career path I wanted. Not only are you around aircraft all day but you get to lead the incredibly skilled aircraft maintainers and resolve issues that are impediments to making the mission happen.”
She earned her commission from the Academy in May 1995 but the learning never stopped. In layman’s terms, as an officer, her crew’s job was to keep the airplanes flying—to get the mission done and every Airmen home. So as she mentored, gave directions and coached others, she was always taking classes too.
During her 25 year career, Palmer served in a variety of assignments in various locations, including 11 years at the Pentagon. She finished at Lewis-McChord Field, Washington
One of her favorite assignments was at Spangdahlem Air Base and Ramstein Air Base in Germany where she met her husband Roger. They were in the same squadron. He flew the C-9 aircraft and her maintainers fixed and serviced the aircraft.
In Germany she not only met her future husband but became fast friends with several women who remain in contact today. There was also time to ski the Alps and see the sites all around Europe.
As an officer, she was always appreciative of those who worked with her. Her squadron commander at Charleston Air Force Base SC was deployed for 6 months. As second in command, she stepped in as acting commander of a 600 person unit.
She says, “It was a huge responsibility for a 32-year old but I was surrounded by a great group of officers and my Airmen flourished! We ended up winning an Air Force and Department of Defense level award for outstanding maintenance during that time period.
Later, at McChord Field, two of my Airmen had a great idea to create a tool that would maintain batteries for a C-17 easier, more cost effective and safer. They pitched the idea to Air Force leadership and 500 Airmen at a convention center. It was approved and now the base will receive a state of the art 3D printer to help Airmen do their jobs.”
The Air Force has been a rewarding profession for Col. Palmer in many ways. In addition to the satisfaction of serving her country at the different assignments, she has earned multiple education degrees (including the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy), many other major awards and decorations, as well as promotion to Colonel.
Nevertheless, all good things must come to an end. I asked Kirsten why she was retiring now and she said:
“I figured a quarter of a century is a nice round number of years to serve my country. My priorities in life have changed. I want to spend more time with my family and be there more for my kids. They are only young once and I want to create amazing memories like I have of my Mom when I was a child.
“At some point I’ll probably get back into the job market with a part-time job. Until then, I’m going to enjoy being a Mom, catching my breath and reflect on the eventful last 25 years—the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been and the things I’ve gotten to do that I never imagined when I left Cottage Grove in 1991 and headed to the Air Force Academy.”
Thank you, Kirsten, for a job well done serving your country and being an inspiration for all young people to follow their dreams. Enjoy the memories. A new life of opportunities and challenges await. You are an inspiration.
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