FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. – For one Gulf Power employee, Veterans Day has a double meaning. Not only does Penny Pullins celebrate the national holiday as a veteran, but also as a military spouse.
Pullins, a Customer consultant at the Fort Walton Beach office, served in the U.S. Army from 1993-96. She has been married to her husband Austin, who has served for nearly 20 years, and is now stationed at nearby Hurlburt Field at the Air Force Special Operations Command.
When she was a junior in high school in Maine, she wanted to join the Army, but her parents said no. So, she got their permission to join the National Guard. She went to basic training, then advanced individual training as a high-school senior.
“I was kind of an oddball,” she said. “Most people don’t do that.”
And when she turned 18, she joined the Army.
“I wasn’t ready to go off to college and I wanted to experience new things so it was a way for me to check out the world on my own,” she said.
Plus, she now didn’t have to get her parents’ permission. Pullins was the baby of five girls.
“At first, they didn’t like the decision,” she said, “but they knew I was more on the independent side. But later, they traveled to see me in places outside the United States they’d never been before.”
In the Army, Pullins was assigned as a supply/logistics specialist. She mainly handled ammunition and weapons as the unit Armorer.
She later was stationed in Seoul, South Korea, where the ammo was stored in bunkers and tunnels inside a mountain near North Korea.
“We had to take a South Korean Nationalist with us who could speak the language since we were so close to the Demilitarized Zone,” she said.
After she got out in 1996, she attended the University of Maine for one semester. A friend then talked her into moving to Lincoln, Neb. There, she joined the National Guard, where she met her future husband, Austin. They had served in the Army (he was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne) at the same time, but in different locations.
“A couple of nomads,” she said with a laugh.
Austin joined the U.S. Air Force, then they were married in 1998. He was stationed in places like Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, Okinawa, Japan, then Scott AFB in Illinois.
They have been at Hurlburt for nearly five years, where he is a Tactical Systems Operator aboard the U-28A intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft.
He has deployed to Afghanistan four times and once to Africa.
Pullins loves that the military has allowed her to travel the world, something she wanted to do in high school.
“I can definitely check that off my list,” she said. “I wouldn’t have changed that decision for anything. It helped me grow up a little bit. It was fun and the relationships you build in the military are completely different than any others you’ll experience because of the things you have to go through together.”