JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
The morning bell rings, the energy in the classroom buzzes in the air like static electricity. Everyone in the 8th grade earth science class knows what will be in today’s lesson. Today they are discussing our planetary system.
In this class is a girl who dreams of seeing the stars as an astronaut. Encouraged by her uncle to apply to the U.S. Air Force Academy, this big dreamer eventually discovered what she really enjoyed. She became a leader, wife, mother, and friend to many. That big dreamer was Col. Kirsten Palmer.
Palmer, the commander of the 446th Maintenance Group here, retired after 25 years of service in a ceremony held here August 2.
Her career started at the Academy, first exploring a pilot career, but eventually deciding on another career choice.
She shifted her career goals after participating in a shadowing program with a maintenance officer at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
“This is what I want to do, this is so cool,” said Palmer. “Because you get to be around these cool airplanes and be around a lot of Airmen who are motivated to do their job.”
She earned her commission from the Academy in May 1995, serving in a variety of assignments, in various locations, at the wing, headquarters and joint levels, finally bringing her to Washington state.
Since August 2018 as group commander, Palmer oversaw the 446th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and the 446th Maintenance Squadron providing maintenance support for C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, as well as the training and mission preparedness for over 350 Reserve Citizen Airmen here.
“She mentored, gave direction, and coached towards the mission statement she helped develop,” said Lt. Col. Patricio Acuario, the commander of the 446th AMXS. “As my group commander she had made significant mentoring strides to make me a better officer. Her leadership style has created a culture that is more unified making us a stronger team to assist in getting through these uncertain times.”
The one piece of advice she gives to Airmen starting their career is to stay motivated.
“Things can get tough, but persevere,” said Palmer. “Because you never know what opportunity is around the corner.”
Palmer attributes her successful career to the support of her family.
Her time spent overseas in Germany was her most rewarding assignment only because it brought her to so many lifelong friends, and meeting her husband, said Palmer.
“I’ve been to some pretty cool places, and done some awesome things and met amazing people,” Palmer said. “But I could not have done that without my family.”
During Palmer’s virtual retirement ceremony, Maj. Gen. Maureen Banavige, the mobilization assistant to the commander with the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, recorded for her a special message.
“There was no question about what the intent in your heart was as a leader, it was to get the mission done and get every Airmen home at the end of the day,” said Banavige. “You make people better, you make better Airmen, myself included. I know through all that you do and the way you work and the way your leadership style is you make people want to do better for the mission and for their fellow Airmen.”
Presiding at the retirement ceremony, Col. Paul Skipworth, the commander of the 446th Airlift Wing, spoke of Palmer’s leadership successes as well.
Palmer’s hard work showed through the success of her group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, promoting innovation among the squadrons to help improve workflow, Skipworth said.
Palmer encouraged her squadron members to think outside the box and be innovative, which led to the 446th MXS submission of an aircraft battery cell extractor for the 2020 Spark Tank competition.
“There is always a different way of looking at a problem,” said Palmer. “When you come across an issue and the book answer doesn’t sound right, go ahead and question it, but make sure you go through the proper channels and get permission.”
Palmer’s final words at her retirement were of reflection on her career and her next steps in life.
“When I came here two years ago retiring was the furthest thing from my mind,” said Palmer. “But sometimes life throws a curve ball at you and you have to reevaluate what’s important. I’ve enjoyed the last 25 years and there are things I’m going to miss, like the people I have met along this journey.”