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New 101st Wing Commander: Air Guard in a 'Pretty Good Place'

BANGOR, Maine -- A Hampden native who has been tapped to lead the Maine Air National Guard's 101st Air Refueling Wing said Monday it's like he has been preparing for the role for most of his life.

Col. Adam Jenkins, who assumed command of the 101st on Jan. 20, succeeds former wing commander Col. Douglas Farnham, who late last month was nominated and later approved as the Maine National Guard's adjutant general and commissioner of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management.

As commander of the MAINEiacs, Jenkins is responsible for the full range of command, discipline, training and morale matters connected to a KC-135 air refueling wing, according to a job description provided by the Guard. He supervises slightly more than 950 men and women in the wing.

A command pilot with about 4,800 military flying hours under his belt, Jenkins worked his way up the ranks, serving aboard the KC-135E and KC-135R as co-pilot, aircraft commander, instructor pilot and evaluation pilot along the way.

"I'm what's affectionately known as a 'Guard baby.' I joined off the street [as opposed to through the Air Force or the Air Force Academy]," Jenkins, 56, said during an interview Monday in his office in the Maine Air National Guard base's headquarters building.

"I grew up in Hampden, and after graduating [from] the University of Maine I joined the Air National Guard here in Bangor in 1985," he said.

"So I started kind of on the ground floor," he said, adding he worked in operations for several years, spent some time working in maintenance, was the wing's chief of safety, served as a squadron commander and most recently was vice commander.

"I'd like to think, though, I've been preparing for this for 30 years," he said.

According to information provided by the base, Jenkins has been deployed to all corners of the globe. He was a member of the first MAINEiac tanker crew to deploy to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Shield and aircraft commander of the first crew to go to Europe for Operation Allied Force in Kosovo.

He also has been deployed as part of Operation Desert Storm and has been sent to the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.

Jenkins was aircraft commander aboard the first tanker to arrive over New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, providing air combat patrol support as the World Trade Center towers collapsed.

Less than a week into his new role, Jenkins said it was premature to discuss specific goals.

"I would say we're always looking for new missions, new opportunities to exploit our geographical location, the great work ethic of the folks that are in this unit, the great leadership folks displayed over the years," he said.

Despite periodic concerns about possible downsizing because of changing defense needs, Jenkins says he believes that the Air Guard is on solid footing.

"I think that we're where we're going to be for awhile," he said. "There were some adjustments made as the world changes and evolves and the political and social environment changes. I think we're probably fairly stable right now, and we'll just be planning for the future and potential for change, but I think we're in a pretty good place."

Jenkins said Monday he expects the air refueling wing "will continue to be a very operational unit. We are very involved with our headquarters missions, and joint services."

"We've got some Navy aircraft that frequent our base and fly missions out of here. Of course, the [Northeast] Tanker Task Force involves multinational organizations flying through here," he said. "That's the world that I've grown up in, and it's a world we all like being a part of, and I expect we'll continue to be that great operational-based organization."

Jenkins, who resides in Bangor with his wife, Jean, and three daughters, Chelsea, Caitlin and Sophie, praised the people under his command.

"We've got an incredible legacy, and we've got an incredible group of people out here who are really in fine shape to carry that legacy forward into the future," he said.

"Having said that, maintaining a vital force is as important as anything in my mind, at this point," he added.

Jenkins acknowledged the Maine Guard faces recruiting obstacles.

"Gen. Farnham has been very articulate in explaining some of the difficulties and the challenges that we face in the future," he said.

Jenkins said a bill before state lawmakers seeks to provide education funding for Guard members who want to study at the state's community colleges.

"It's come and gone in the past, and we are the only state in New England that doesn't offer such an enticement," he said. "And as a result, we've lost some folks who decided to perhaps join in another state that does offer that."

Despite the complexities of his new command, Jenkins' mission is clear, he said.

"I think my mission right now is to maintain a steady hand at the controls, so to speak."

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