128 Years of Family Serving Family: Penny Palmer, Joint Base Lewis-McChord

FamilyServingFamily_Penny Palmer

One in a series honoring the Exchange’s 128 years of family serving family.

Who she is: Penny Palmer, retail business manager, Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Years with the Exchange: 27

What she did at first: Cashier, Beachwood Shoppette at Fort Lewis (now JBLM)

Where she has worked: Palmer’s Exchange journey has taken her from JBLM to various positions throughout Alaska, including Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base (now Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson), along with Fort Wainwright. She has been at JBLM since February 2000.

What brought her to the Exchange: Palmer’s mother, a former Exchange associate, was the first one to encourage her to pursue a position with the Exchange.

“Before I applied for my first job with the Exchange, I worked for Nordstrom,” Palmer said. “Everything was based off commission, and I didn’t like that environment very much.

“My mom always told me she had very good experiences working for the Exchange, and I grew up with the Exchange.”

With an active-duty husband, the Exchange’s military spouse hiring preference also played a major role in her decision.

“The hiring preference was key,” she said. “Knowing that wherever I ended up with my husband, I could at least get a job, even if it was temporary.”

Alaska memories: Palmer attended middle school and her first year of high school in Alaska when her father was stationed at Fort Wainwright from 1982 to ’85.

When she returned to Alaska to work at Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base—her first time in Anchorage—it was a different but rewarding experience.

“This was my first time being away from my mom, so I was excited and scared,” Palmer said. “I’m a people person, so I loved interacting and meeting new people there.

“I also learned the meaning of ‘combat fishing’ for the first time and couldn’t believe how big the salmon were there compared to Washington!”

Family connections: Palmer’s mother retired in 2015 after 33 years of service with the Exchange.

“I remember going to work with my mom on Bring Your Child to Work Day and helping her out in the store,” she said. “I loved stocking, helping bag merchandise and of course talking with the people.

“I told my mom after I started working with the Exchange that I wanted to be like her, move up in the organization and make her proud.”

She met her husband at Fort Lewis after he had completed Army basic training and Advanced Individual Training and was assigned to the post. The pair met at a roller-skating rink that was on the site of the current Children’s Museum at JBLM, marrying in 1987.

Palmer is an Army brat herself: Her father (retired), brother (retired), father-in-law and brother-in-law all served in the Army. Her aunt and uncle are both retired Marines while her son-in-law served eight years with the Air Force.

Memorable moments: “I love how we give back to the community with things I never saw in my younger Exchange career or just as a spouse,” Palmer said. “I see it all now and it would have been great to see events like we put on now, just little things to boost morale.”

As the retail business manager, Palmer can work closely with vendors across the Exchange to organize special events at JBLM.

“We recently hosted an event where we invited some of our vendors and had the Coca-Cola bear mascot there for the children,” she said. “The smile on their faces while they danced with the bear and took pictures was amazing.

“One of the spouses there was just crying, because her husband is deployed and just seeing her child happy overwhelmed her with emotion.”

Family Serving Family: “Being at JBLM for so long, I feel like it’s its own tight-knit community. It’s a special place,” Palmer said. “I’ve seen so many people come and go, and I love seeing old faces who come back after moving away.

“Having both my real family and my Exchange family here is very special. We’re one big family—I’m very blessed to have a strong mom who worked at the Exchange and guided me to be the person I am today.”

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