Lt. Col. Tom Palenske shared his rise from an at-risk youth to an Air Force commander Friday during Marshall Middle School’s Veterans Day program.
Palenske, commander of the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon, emphasized what the military did for him and how it helped him reach his position in the 20th Special Operations Squadron. Palenske, who grew up with only a mother in a home where money was tight, considered himself an at-risk teenager.
“I was an underage drinker, a fist fighter, and a girl chaser. The military taught me that everything wasn’t about me, that there are things that are bigger and more important out there and I believe it disciplined me in life. It calmed down some of the self-induced chaos that I was going through,” said Palenske, as he captivated the audience with humor and tossing out dog tags to liven up his speech.
Palenske advised students to try to calm any self-induced turmoil to move forward in life easier.
“Tom Palenske did a really great job in reaching the kids, telling them how they can start to think about their future, even if they’re not going to serve in the military, what they can do now,” said Brittany Griffith, a seventh-grade special education teacher at Marshall. Palenske also spoke of the strong support he received from his military comrades, referring to them as the best part of the military. He said that his military associates helped him to succeed, and told students that a military-like camaraderie would help them in or out of the armed forces.
“If you get really smart, motivated, talented people moving in the same direction the atmosphere is just fantastic and the work environment could not be better,” Palenske said.
He told students to strive to make the best possible impact on their peers.
Palenske also highlighted the importance of serving one’s country in whatever way one feels most fit to serve and challenged students to set up their life to become valuable members of society. According to Palenske, 1 percent of the nation’s population serves in the U.S. military.
“Serving your country does not have to do with just being in the military. There are people like the teachers here at Marshall who are serving their country by passing knowledge on to you guys so you guys can have a better life,” Palenske said.
Marshall eighth-grader TJ Smith had the opportunity to speak with military personnel and communicated his plan to join ROTC in high school and move on to the Air Force academy.
“I really liked the talk by Lt. Col. Tom Palenske. I think it would be cool to be a pilot and work on planes because I really want to work on planes for fun. I would like to be a pilot flying either a C-130 or an Osprey,” Smith said.