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Commandant Palmer earns governor's commendation

Retired U.S. Army Col. James T. Palmer, center, and wife Judy Palmer receive the commendation from Gov. Nathan Deal on Jan. 7 in Deal's offices at the capitol.

Retired U.S. Army Col. James T. Palmer, commandant of cadets at the University of North Georgia (UNG), who has announced that he will retire from UNG at the end of June, was honored Jan. 7 with a commendation from Gov. Nathan Deal to recognize his years of service to the university, the state of Georgia and the nation.

"Whereas Col. James T. Palmer is a proud Georgia citizen who has faithfully served our state and our nation for more than four decades," read the commendation that listed a number of Palmer's accomplishments. "… Whereas Col. Palmer is a true example of selfless service and an inspiration to those who know him. He has earned the respect and admiration of his family, friends, colleagues, and fellow Georgia citizens; now, therefore, I, Nathan Deal, Governor of the State of Georgia, do hereby commend Col. James T. Palmer."

Palmer's accomplishments and service noted in the commendation include: a 75 percent increase in the size of the Corps of Cadets from 1999 through 2018; founding the Corps Advisory Council and the Corps of Cadets Alumni Network; supporting the deployment of cadets in the Georgia Army National Guard to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2004; and serving as interim vice president of student affairs at UNG.

"Few others have invested so much of themselves into the success of the Corps of Cadets and this university nor upheld so strongly the values of both,” said UNG President Bonita Jacobs. “I am thankful to Col. Palmer for his service to the university and his service to the nation during his distinguished military career. His legacy at this university will be long-lasting, and his presence and leadership will be missed. "

UNG President Bonita Jacobs, along with UNG administrators and alumni, pose with retired Col. James T. Palmer and Gov. Nathan Deal.

Palmer said he was surprised and honored to be recognized for a second career that has been almost as long as his 26-year Army career. With 20 years of service, Palmer is the longest-serving commandant in the Association of Military  Colleges and Schools of the United States (AMCSUS).

"Serving as commandant at the University of North Georgia has been the highlight of my 46-year career and the greatest honor imaginable. The job completely consumed me — ask anybody! — for 20 years, and I loved it," Palmer said.

Palmer said he is most proud of helping to grow the Corps of Cadets in both size and quality during his tenure. But what legacy does he hope to leave?

"That I had a small part in developing many highly educated leaders of character," Palmer said. "My friends and colleagues will probably remember that I was always a proponent of academic achievement, that I favored professionalism over tradition, and that I expanded the opportunities for all cadets to serve others after graduation."

Palmer graduated as a Distinguished Military Graduate from then-North Georgia College in 1973 with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and commissioned field artillery. During his Army career, Palmer was stationed at various bases in the United States, Germany and elsewhere. While assigned to V Corps Artillery Headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, in November 1989, Palmer witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the downsizing of the U.S. Army, Europe. His final active duty assignment was chief of Exercises and Training Division for the U.S. Army Central Command, where he was responsible for planning all Army training exercises in the Middle East.

Palmer never expected to return to his alma mater after graduation but, in his 25th year in the U.S. Army, he was offered the chance to interview for commandant.

"The phone rang in my office at Fort McPherson, and Mike Hyams asked me to come to Dahlonega for an interview. I burned the road up," Palmer said. "During that visit to campus, Hyams, then- Commandant Gerald Lord, and then-President Sherm Day convinced me that I could retire from the Army and serve our military students for a few more years."

Palmer admitted that in interviewing for the position, his wife helped him with a resume because he "had no idea what one looked like." He credits her for his success — and not just in crafting a resume.

"Most importantly, as I approach retirement, I would like to thank my wonderful wife, Judy Palmer, for her support since the day we met on the drill field in the fall of 1972. She is the primary reason for any success I have ever had, and I love her dearly," Palmer said. "In June, when I cease wearing my uniform, I'll still have her. That was the plan, all along."

Palmer is married to the former Judy Norris of Toccoa, Georgia; they have two daughters, Kristin and Meredith, son-in law Justin, and one grandson, Jase. His awards and decorations include the Master Parachutist Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and the Legion of Merit. 

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