AVON, Ohio -- Nearly a month ago, U.S. Army Major Tim Jenkins felt like Santa Claus as he passed out Bridgestone Invitational golf hats and towels to the game's fellow devotees at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.
The gifts the Avon resident shared with his fellow servicemen were made possible by an email he'd received seeking interesting stories from tournament volunteers.
Just as challenging as the hour he spent crafting the tale of his memorable encounter with Rory McIlroy's father was the task of carrying a 70-pound box about a quarter mile from the base's mailroom when it arrived two weeks later.
Inside the package from PGA Tour headquarters in Florida was a 5-gallon bucket of balls, 20 clubs and a stack of gear bearing logos of the World Golf Championships, Bridgestone and Firestone Country Club.
In his correspondence with Glenda Buchanan, the administrator for Northern Ohio Golf Charities who runs the event's volunteer program, she had asked if there was a place for Jenkins to hit balls at his base.
The 37-year-old joked back that the desert installation, which has a small driving range, is the perfect setting to work on his bunker play.
But Jenkins feared that his yearlong deployment, which will now stretch to two with an assignment following in Turkey, would cost him the five-year volunteer pin he'd hoped to receive at Firestone during the June 30-July 3 event.
Instead, he's found a way to continue to volunteer overseas. And there's a chance he'll arrive home for a month just in time for the tournament before starting his new job for NATO Land Command in Izmir, Turkey.
Buchanan has already signed up the 16-year Army man and waived his volunteer fee.
"Over the years of me volunteering, I've met a lot of friends. It really is like a second family," Jenkins said Monday from Kuwait on a phone connection that sounded as if he were calling from Avon. "It's such a unique thing. A lot of people don't understand what the volunteership really means to you as a person and to the golf community -- the PGA community, the Bridgestone community and the Firestone community."
In his first four years at the Bridgestone, Jenkins served on the mobile devices committee, aka the cellphone police. He keeps in touch with vice chairman Mike Hausch, a lieutenant in the Akron Fire Department.
But he also made friends two years ago with Mark Derrig, who's taken over the volunteer recruitment and development committee.
"A lot of what he does is online and calling and mailings. I'm still going to volunteer, I'm just not going to be physically present," Jenkins said, explaining his role this year. He and Derrig communicate through email, texting and Facebook.
"I can still earn my five-year pin, which for me was a huge goal," Jenkins said. "I want to continue to be a part of the family and still give back even if I'm not there."
His stint on mobile devices -- he said he's only been forced to eject one patron from the premises in four years -- will be waiting if the timing of his return is right. He said his wife, Rania, will have no problem with that scenario.
Jenkins has been married for six years, but has been separated from Rania for 2 1/2 of that. The native of Lebanon, who emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager, operates Rania's Hair Salon and Spa in Rocky River and specializes in bridal hair and makeup. While Jenkins made a quick trip home for Easter, Rania was gone to New Orleans for a wedding job. The two have four children, ages 23, 22, 16 and 3. (The 22-year-old, a student at Cuyahoga Community College, is a specialist in the Ohio National Guard who was sworn in by his father.)
Because Rania's business keeps her busy during the summer, she's never minded her husband volunteering for the golf tournament. He figures nothing will be different if it happens this year, especially since Rania and their children will be able to visit him in Turkey.
"If I was doing this on my wife's time off, she probably would have some heartache about it," Jenkins said. "She works 10- to 12-hour days; she doesn't really notice me not at the house. It's kind of a match made in heaven."
Jenkins' many years in the Army have helped him make connections at Firestone. That's what happened with McIlroy's father, Gerry.
When he commanded a military intelligence company in Iraq, Jenkins kept up the tradition of minting a coin to award to those he felt deserved special recognition. During the Bridgestone Invitational, he always carries one with him.
During his first year at Firestone, Jenkins' second-round assignment was to follow McIlroy's group. Midway through, he struck up a conversation with a man with a foreign accent, not knowing it was the father of the young star from Northern Ireland. Gerry McIlroy spotted the Airborne wings pinned to Jenkins' cap and they discussed his time in the service.
Sensing the elder McIlroy was a staunch supporter of the military, even in America, Jenkins reached in his pocket and gave the player's father a coin.
Two days later, they passed each other on the course. As Jenkins approached, Gerry McIlroy pulled out the token and told the story to another patron.
"Each year since, as I run across him, he still nods and says hello as if to say, 'Thanks for your service,'" Jenkins wrote in the story he emailed to Buchanan.
Jenkins hopes to be promoted to lieutenant colonel within five years, but plans to stay and probably retire in Avon. That would allow him to keep the connection to his Bridgestone volunteer family.
By the time he returns from Kuwait this summer, Jenkins doesn't think his sand shots will have improved. But he was happy the massive package from Ponte Vedra, Fla., included a left-handed club.
Jenkins does everything left-handed except golf. When he took up the game as a sophomore at Marshall University 15 years ago, he didn't have access to those type of clubs. Now, thanks to the tour's generosity, when Jenkins finds his ball in a difficult lie, he will have the option of hitting with either hand.
"Precisely," he said. "That's what I was thinking."
This article was written by Marla Ridenour from The Akron Beacon Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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