McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

May 3, 2014

Cmdr. Pete Nilsen-Not just a regular guy

By Jeanne LeFlore
Staff Writer

McALESTER — To hear him tell it, Cmdr. Pete Nilsen is just a regular guy who grew up in McAlester as the black sheep of the family, on a first-name basis with the town judge because he got a lot of speeding tickets.

Nilsen was the guest speaker at Friday’s Armed Forces Day Luncheon at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.

Nilsen graduated from McAlester High School in 1980 and along the way he delivered papers for the McAlester News-Capital, delivered flowers for Mann’s Flower Shop and he even worked for a time for veterinarian and state Rep. Dr. Brian Reneger.

But Nilsen isn’t just a regular guy. He enlisted in the Navy and rose quickly rose through the ranks to what he is today, Commander Nilsen assistant chief of staff, Navy Missile and Defense Command and former Captain of the USS Cole, a destroyer with history.

On Oct. 12, 2000 17 sailors died and 39 others were injured on the USS Cole when  it was struck by a boat packed with explosives while refueling in Aden Harbor, Yemen. The explosion blew a 40-foot-wide hole in the ship. The USS Cole was repaired and recommissioned in 2002.

The theme of the luncheon was “Courage at Sea” and during Nilsen’s speech he talked about the courage of the soldiers who died while serving on the USS Cole and the courage of his own crew while aboard the destroyer.

Nilsen said it was an honor to take command of the destroyer because he became part of a team “that got it.”

“How do you honor these men and women who gave their lives”

Nilsen asked.

“My crew honored them by doing the very best they could day in and day out with dedication.”

After listening to his speech during the luncheon Nilsen’s sister Jennifer Green and her husband Vernon said they were proud of Nilsen and what he has accomplished.

“I am extremely proud of him, he worked hard and he gets respect for that.

And his mother Elizabeth and her husband Corky Oliver were also in the audience said after the luncheon that she was also proud of him.

“When he was a teenager I told him one day he needed to get his act together or he won’t amount to anything.”

“We he really amounted to something and I am so very proud of him.”

No he’s not just a regular guy, but Nilsen said growing up in McAlester had a lot to do with his success.

“Bottom line, this town and the people here had a firm hand in how I turned out today,” he said.

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at