Penny Koger-Thomas was surprised when she opened the February issue of Ebony Magazine.

She was traveling from New York to Alabama in January and was in the Charlotte, N.C., airport. She subscribes to the magazine but bought it at the airport because of the famous personalities and articles mentioned on the front cover.

"I had a long layover in Charlotte, too, so I needed something to read," said Koger-Thomas, a human resources specialist in the Aviation and Missile Command's (AMCOM) G-1 (Human Resources).

She happened to turn right to the page where she was listed as one of Ebony Magazine's 2008 "Thirty Rising Leaders Under 30." The list included males and females throughout the United States who have distinguished themselves as young lawyers, doctors, politicians, government employees and media personalities.

"I was immediately shocked and called my husband and told him what had happened," Koger-Thomas said.

She believes she was nominated by a mentor in Huntsville. The magazine contacted Koger-Thomas by e-mail in July asking for her background information. She gathered her information and sent it back. Later she received an e-mail from an editor stating how her text would read if she was selected.

But she was still shocked when she appeared on page 136 in the February issue.

"And I was like 'Oh I know her,'" she said laughing.

Koger-Thomas, 29, a Madison resident, has worked for the government about seven and a half years, including two years in the military. She began her civilian career in 2003 as a human resources assistant in the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center. Within eight months, she was accepted as an intern in G-1. In 2006 she completed the intern program and remained at G-1 as a human resources specialist.

She is a trained green belt Lean Six Sigma facilitator. In the past she served as executive director of a non-profit organization in Augusta, Ga. She serves on the board of directors of the Volunteer Center of Madison County and on the board of the American Heart Association of Madison County. She is a graduate of Leadership/Huntsville Connect Class 4. In 1977 she was named the Volunteer of the Year for the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Spartanburg, S.C.

"First and foremost, it's a true honor to be recognized (among the 30 young leaders)," she said. "And yet also it was a shock."

A native of St. Stephen, S.C., she is pleased to show others what you can accomplish as a young person and from small town roots.

"Have I done great things' No," she said. "I just feel I've done what I know and love."

But she's not finished. "Well, professionally I want to step into and accept more challenging positions," she said. "And public service-wise, I want to continue my service to the community and continue to mentor others as so many have done for me before."

Her mentors have included Deborah Johnson-Ross of Maryland, who was a professor of hers at Wofford College in Spartanburg; Christine Miller-Betts, a museum director in Augusta; her immediate supervisor Lori Reynolds, chief of plans and policy division, and G-1 director Tim Grey; and Ronnie Chronister, AMCOM's deputy to the commanding general who mentored her while he served as director of the Integrated Materiel Management Center.

"And that list can probably go on for miles and miles and miles because I know I haven't gotten where I am because of just these people," said Koger-Thomas, including family members and others among past and present mentors. "You learn from everybody you've encountered. And everybody I've encountered has influenced me in some form or fashion."

She graduated from Wofford College in 2000 with a bachelor's in government and history; and she hopes to soon complete a master's from Alabama A&M University. Her husband of six years, 1st Lt. Elton Thomas, is attending the field artillery captains career course at Fort Sill, Okla.

"What I enjoyed about the (magazine) recognition is they took the time to poll the United States and find 30 young leaders," Koger-Thomas said. "I hope our recognition inspires all people to do good for the community because that's really what it's all about. We have to take care of the community because if we don't it's not going to be here. I also want to send a message to naysayers who believe because you're of a certain age you're not capable of leading. It's not the age of the person it's the knowledge and understanding that person has received."