SHREVEPORT, La. — Like everyone across the country 21 years ago at this time, Oliver Jenkins was left stunned by the backdoor terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on 9/11.
“Shocked, amazed, completely surprised,” the retired Marine Lt. Col. recalled as the World Trade Center and the Pentagon burned.
But the former Marine fighter pilot would soon be in the air. He was stationed across the country in San Diego.
“Never in my life did I even imagine a scenario where someone would attack the United States on our own soil. There would be an American response shortly,” Jenkins said.
“I went to Miramar. We were on alert in case further activity occurred on the west coast. Two days later I flew from Miramar to Wake Island and then finally to Guam as part of the 911 response,” he continued. “I was truly the first plane to fly in the hemisphere. western United States after 9/11.
Jenkins patrolled to defend strategic US targets in the Far East in an FA-18 Hornet as the United States drew up battle plans against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Then later there was another war with Iraq in early 2003.
“I flew the day of the invasion and I flew every day for the – I would say – the first four weeks of intensive combat operations in Iraq,” Jenkins said.
After initial airstrikes from Iraqi command and control centers, Jenkins provided air cover for ground forces on the march to Baghdad to oust Saddam Hussein from power.
“We encountered a significant amount of triple-A surface-to-air missiles,” Jenkins explains. “When you drop bombs on strategic targets, those targets are defended by anti-aircraft batteries or surface-to-air missiles. And that’s when you are most vulnerable.”
Jenkins had already flown over Iraq, enforcing no-fly zones after our first war there – Operation Desert Storm.
Jenkins also had combat experience in the war with Bosnia in the mid-1990s while flying an EA-6B Prowler. The aircraft and its four-member crew electronically jammed enemy radar sites – or destroyed them with missiles.
In all, Jenkins flew 150 combat missions during his 20-year career.
“I’m very proud of it,” he said modestly.
And to think he was on his way to a career in investment banking on Wall Street, after graduating from Dartmouth.
“I was pretty active and I wasn’t really ready to go sit behind a desk in New York. And I thought (the Marines) would be a great opportunity. do it for you know a full career. But glad I did it,” he says.
Jenkins continues to serve today at Shreveport as Chairman of the Airport Authority Board of Directors. He also served two terms on the city council, beginning in 2010 shortly after returning to his hometown. And he encourages others.
“We need people to step up in all areas, in my opinion to serve, whether it’s in the military or in their community,” he says.
Jenkins’ military decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal. In addition to his public service, he has served as President and CEO of Phillips Energy since 2010.