McALESTER — On Friday a large group of family, friends, crew, former shipmates and dignitaries gathered onboard the USS Cole in Norfolk Virginia to witness former McAlester High School graduate Commander Peter Nilsen receive his orders as Captain of the USS Cole.
Nilsen is the son of Harold (Corky) and Elizabeth Oliver of McAlester and the brother of Jennifer Green, also of McAlester. He lives in Chesapeake VA and is married to Teresa and has three children, Matthew, 27, Garth, 21 and Alison 17.
As the ceremony began eight side boys stood at attention on each side of the red carpet as Commander Nilsen walked up to the podium on the deck of the USS COLE. Nilsen and the officer he was relieving of duty, Commander Andrew C. Ehlers, read the official orders. “ I relieve you sir,” said Nilsen. “I stand relieved,” said Elhers. With that, the transfer of total responsibility, authority and accountability of the USS COLE and its crew was passed to Nilsen.
After the ceremony the boatswain mate blew the ceremonial whistle and Nilsen walked down the carpet as Captain of “The Determined Warrior” the USS Cole.
The McAlester News- Capital was also onboard the ship and was given the opportunity to tour the ship with him and his family.
His wife Teresa Nilsen a Navy veteran and registered nurse said the family has been busy the last few weeks.
“Our son (Garth) got married on Wednesday and we haven’t had time to take it all in, I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” she said.
Nilsen has reached the highest rank aboard the ship, but his first job wasn’t as prestigious.
“My first job was throwing papers for the McAlester News when I was a teenager and then I delivered flowers for Walter, Alan and Anne Mann at Mann’s flower shop. He said he also used to mow lawns for a few extra bucks.
As he sat at the helm of the 505-foot guided missile destroyer, Nilsen recounted his life in McAlester. “I have the best memories of McAlester, it was a great place to grow up.”
Nilsen graduated from MHS in 1980 and said he wasn’t sure then where he was headed. “I attended a few colleges and worked as a restaurant manager of a Holiday Inn,” Then he said he called about a job opening he saw in the paper. I called the number and when they answered and said ‘U.S. Navy,’ I said I must have the wrong number.” He said the recruiter talked him into coming in and taking a test that was in 1984.
Soon after the phone call Nilsen enlisted in the Navy as an Operations Specialist. By 1990 he was selected as Commander, Training Atlantic Instructor of the Year and Fleet Combat Training Center Atlantic Sailor of the Year for 1990.
In 1990 while attaining these achievements in the Navy he also graduated from Southern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education, but that was only the beginning.
“For someone to go from enlisted to captain is unheard of,” said Bob Hess Master Chief Retired,
Nilsen said Hess was and still is his mentor and friend.
In 1992 Nilsen was advanced to Operations Specialist Chief Petty officer and was commissioned through the Limited Duty Officer Program in 1994.
“I stayed in (the Navy) because I would bump into old guys who would tell me that wished they never left the Navy, I listened to them,”Nilsen said as he overlooked the destroyer from his new seat as captain of the USS Cole.
After his initial training, Nilsen reported to the Pre-Commissioning Unit CARNEY as her first Operations Tech LDO and the then as her first Operations Tech LDO. Once the ship was commissioned he competed her maiden deployment to the Mediterranean/ Arabian Gulf. During this tour, the USS CARNEY was awarded two Battle Efficiency awards and the USS Arizona Memorial Award.
“Once I was in the Navy I tried to listen to the advice of those above me and learn from them,” Nilsen said.
His former Master Chief Hess said that Nilsen could be counted on to do exactly as he was told.
“I knew if gave him a job, he would do it right, every time.” Hess said.
After his tour on the USS CARNEY Nilsen reported to AEGIS Training and Readiness Detachment Center in Norfolk as Assistant Officer in Charge, responsible for the tactical training of all Pre-Commissioning DDG-51 Class ships in Bath, Maine and Pascagoula, Mississippi.
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