From Coast Guard Veteran to Successful Contractor

Percy Jenkins
When Hurricane Ike roared ashore in Texas on Set. 13, 2008, its 110 mph winds and 20-foot storm surge scored a direct hit on the U.S. Coast Guard station on Galveston Island. Base housing, galleys and docks were destroyed.

"This one was a beast," Coast Guard Reservist Percy Jenkins recalls. "The whole island was a mess."

Rebuilding was a mess, too, as numerous contractors began to bump elbows. It was Jenkins' job to create order.

Jenkins in 2008 was a reservist and former residential builder in Kalamazoo. The Coast Guard had called him back to active duty in Galveston for his construction background, but this would be his first experience with large government contracts.

When he found he could navigate the labyrinthine world of federal construction contracting, "that started the wheels spinning." He saw that with enough hard work, he could become a successful government contractor.

"I knew at that point I needed to step up my game," he said.

It wasn't the first time he had to step it up.

'Should have been in prison'

Growing up in the 1970s and '80s near San Antonio, Texas, Jenkins was on a fast track to nowhere.

"I represent that statistic that should have been in prison," he said. From public intoxication at age 16 to poaching deer a couple of years later, "I got in trouble for so much."

In court on that poaching charge, Jenkins caught a break. His mother vowed military service would shape up her son. The judge said OK, and Jenkins signed up for the Coast Guard. Four days after his belated high school graduation in 1985, he was in boot camp.

The Coast Guard took him to New Jersey, Virginia, Mississippi, Detroit and Seattle. He left after nine years and settled near his wife's family in the Kalamazoo area and hired in at Kalamazoo's water department while eyeing a career as a public safety officer, building on the firefighting, policing and search-and-rescue skills he'd developed in the Guard. Along the way, he started a residential construction company.

While at a firefighting academy, Jenkins listened when a U.S. Navy veteran told him he'd be a fool not to build on his nine years of military service, so he enlisted in the Coast Guard Reservein 1996 with an eye toward earning his full pension and other benefits.

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