On Aug. 13, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve office awarded Citizen Potawatomi Nation East Clinic pharmacist Penny Southern its Patriotic Employer Award.

The ESGR seeks to “promote a culture in which all American employers support and value the military service of their employees.” CPN pharmacy technician and Air National Guard Staff Sergeant Kimberly Lakins nominated Southern, calling her “extremely patriotic.”

“She’s always just tried to work with me,” Lakins said. “And when I’ve had (Guard) trainings, every time I came home, it was like I never even left. It was just always like open arms and welcome back.”

The award surprised Southern, who was focused on the ever-increasing pharmacy orders and maintaining a staff throughout the pandemic.

“It was the farthest thing from my mind, and getting it … just delighted my soul. With the year and a half that we’ve gone through, I thought, ‘This is fabulous.’ It was really nice,” Southern said.

Lakins joined the Air National Guard 10 years ago and became a CPN Health Services employee four years later. She frequently hears less-than-comforting stories from other ANG members about their experiences with their regular employers. Lakins appreciates Southern’s and CPN’s support throughout her service.

Southern’s understanding nature and willingness to help her employees comes down to a simple life philosophy.

“I have just always tried to live by the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated,” she said. “I feel like if you’re going to come out here and work hard for me, then I can try to help out and compromise.”

Southern also notices her colleague’s hard work and skills every day. Lakins attended Moore Norman Technology Center’s pharmacy technician program in the mid-2000s. In the ANG, she works in medical logistics as an air evacuation unit member. Lakins now stocks in-flight medical supplies and medications, thanks in part to her experience at CPNHS.

Lakin’s organizational skills impress Southern, as well as her ability to connect with others, especially one-on-one.

“The patients adore her because you can hand the people their meds, or you can make a friend every time you see someone,” Southern said. “And this is her. I mean, she makes a friend with every person that comes to the window.”

Lakins finds every day rewarding.

“I love the patients. … I like coming to work just because I get to talk to the patients,” Lakins said.

As staff members needed to quarantine and pharmacy orders increased throughout the pandemic, Southern worked with Lakins to secure additional hours after her husband returned from his tour of duty and the pandemic put his work on hold. While mutually beneficial, the opportunity pushed Lakins to nominate Southern for the award.

“Penny was able to work with me and get me on to work full time so that we could provide for my family. She’s really went above and beyond,” Lakins said as she teared up.

She recently left on deployment, and Southern eagerly awaits her return.

Before Lakins left for duty, Southern smiled and told her, “I’m going to be a world of hurt when you leave.”

Find out more about Citizen Potawatomi Nation Health Services at cpn.news/health.