Coleman's Calling: How One Veteran is Lending a Hand to Others Through Golf
By Jay Coffin
As Kentucky PGA Section PGA HOPE Ambassador, Roth Coleman is spreading the word about how golf can be a helpful resource for Veterans.
It took 67 years, but Roth Coleman feels like he’s finally found his calling.
“One thing I can say about the service is that despite some of the things I’ve been through, despite some of the places I’ve been, the service really matured me,” Coleman says. “I’ve struggled with my own personal demons but got the help I needed. Everything I’m doing now is just icing on the cake.”
The retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant (1978-99) has loved golf for a long time. He picked up the game late in his military career out of boredom as much as anything else. Since then he’s played in Memorial Day weekend buddies trips for the better part of 25 years, played some of the best golf courses in the country, attends as many big golf events as he can, has built an indoor hitting bay in his house and, as he put it, is addicted to the pursuit of getting better.
“It may never happen,” he quips. “But I enjoy it immensely. It’s a calming pleasure in my life.”
Instilling HOPE in other Veterans
Coleman still has a full-time job, although retirement is nearing. He’s a production manager for General Electric Aerospace based out of Florence, Kentucky, and is in charge of a team of 40 mechanics that go all over the world and service aircrafts for numerous airline companies. They have a large engine shop in Kentucky where they service engines and ship them back to customers.
But on this day, Coleman was still jet-lagged, having just returned from Qatar where he was part of a group working on solutions for how to repair GEnx-1B engines. The session was testing cutting-edge technology that was created to send a robot into an engine that cracked during flight to spray a coating on the area to make it as good as new.
Coleman still has plenty of time to devote to the PGA HOPE program at his beloved World of Golf facility near his home in Florence, however. PGA Master Professional Ralph Landrum has long been an adopter of Veteran programs and has worked closely with Coleman over the last few years to help with the recruiting process. PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) is a flagship military program of PGA REACH, the charitable foundation of the PGA of America. It introduces golf to Veterans to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being.
Landrum, a former PGA Tour player who played in 11 majors during the late 1970s and early ‘80s — including the 1978 Masters as an amateur and 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he tied for eighth — hosts three six-week programs at World of Golf each year and says that Coleman is an invaluable asset.
“We’ve got the location, the perfect facility and the enthusiasm for the program,” Landrum says. “What we needed was the Veterans. Roth stepped in and has been so helpful. When they hear from a peer, it means more than when they hear from somebody like me.”
Coleman stopped by recently to tell Landrum that he already has 18 Veterans ready to sign up for the spring program. It’s one of the many reasons why Coleman was selected to be the Kentucky PGA Section’s PGA HOPE Ambassador, which means he was one of 20 veterans chosen to participate in the program’s National Golf and Wellness Week last October in Washington, D.C.
More from PGA
Veteran Mike Jaborek Turning Isolation into Connection Through Golf
Mission Complete: Veteran Randall Halsey Discovered What He was Looking for in the Game of Golf
Runway of PGA HOPE
“He has a big smile and he loves the game,” Landrum says. “We could use 20 more of him.”
Finding purpose post-combat
Coleman was born in Boston and his family moved to Washington, D.C., when he was young. Football was his favorite sport and he even played some in college. But he was not necessarily venturing down the proper path. His father pulled him aside and had a talk.
“He said, ‘Son, you have to get some direction,’” Coleman recalls. “So I walked down to the recruiting station and ended up in the Marine Corps.”
The 22-year career took him “everywhere I ever wanted to go and then plenty of places I never planned on going to.” Coleman spent seven months in 1987 in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War escorting oil tankers while aboard the USS Raleigh. During Operation Earnest Will, helicopters from the deck of the Raleigh caught an Iranian boat laying mines in the water. They immediately were detained and Coleman was put in charge of the well-being of the prisoners.
“Being younger at the time you’re not used to seeing your first combat action,” Coleman said. “It was an experience.”
In 1990, he returned to the Middle East, this time as part of Operation Desert Storm. Four days after the Iraqis attacked Kuwait, Coleman was part of a team at Lonesome Dove who lived in a Saudi soccer stadium for nearly 10 months while building a 10,000-foot runway that the U.S. would use to launch operations.
Time in the service, however, took its toll on Coleman. When it came time for him to leave the Marines in 1999, one marriage had already dissolved and he had just recently remarried.
“Assimilating back into the civilian world was hard for me,” Coleman admits. “I was used to structure and discipline, and I didn’t have that. It took me almost five years after I got out to finally sit down and talk to somebody about my combat experiences and medical issues.”
Everything is mostly under control now. He still has issues sleeping, loud noises are understandably troublesome but he’s learned how to deal with the PTSD as best he can. He’s been a referee for high school basketball games in Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky for nearly 30 years, he has three grown daughters, his work at GE Aerospace keeps him mind fresh and, in his free time, he helps with logistics and recruiting for the PGA HOPE program at World of Golf.
At 67, Coleman is extremely busy. But he wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s found a purpose within his place in the game that he never dreamed he’d find.
“I’ve met a lot of guys in the PGA HOPE program who just want to sit down and talk because they know I’ve had similar experiences,” Coleman says. “They don’t understand how soothing it is for me to be able to talk to someone else on the same level.
“I’ve always been trying to figure out my calling and how to give back. This is my calling.”
To learn more about PGA HOPE and find a program near you, click here.