December 14, 2017
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Teaching, coaching at Hermon ‘like a vacation’ for retired Army tank commander

By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff

HERMON, Maine — There can be plenty of stress on a high school coach.

Having to make personnel decisions, dealing with parents and monitoring academic performance are just a few of the responsibilities.

But first-year Hermon High School softball coach Rob Jenkins doesn’t consider his job to be very stressful.

After serving in the Army for 22 years, including three tours of duty in Iraq, Jenkins has developed a healthy perspective on life. He was a tank commander and he also drove Stryker Combat Vehicles.

He survived three bombings, one from an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) and two from suicide bomber vehicles that rammed into his Stryker vehicle. Several soldiers in the vehicle sustained injuries from the IED attack, but Jenkins escaped unharmed because of where he was positioned.

“It was a life-changing experience,” said Jenkins, who is enjoying life these days as an Army Junior ROTC instructor at Hermon, working with senior Army instructor Marcel Fortier.

“To be honest, this is like a vacation for me,” said Jenkins. “I’m able to take time and enjoy life. I’m residing on a lake and sunsets mean a little more to me now. Going to a game means a little more to me. Looking into the crowd and seeing parents watching their kids play means a little more to me.

“When you’re in Iraq, you see children who have never had a coloring book or young females who aren’t allowed to read,” said Jenkins. “Then you see the expressions on their faces when you give them something like a soccer ball or even a bottle of water. You’re building relationships with kids who grow up hating us. And you’re working real hard to turn that around for the next generation.”

Jenkins, who has a passion for coaching, leads his 16-1 Hawks into Saturday’s 4 p.m. Class B North softball semifinal at Old Town.

He coached several sports in the Army including baseball, softball, ice hockey, football and basketball. He also played a number of sports.

“I love coaching,” said the 46-year-old Jenkins. “This has really filled a void for me. The thing I miss most about the military is having that ability to train people and to compete. It is something I enjoy doing.”

Jenkins has had an outstanding first season as a head coach. Hermon earned the No. 3 seed in Class B North and beat Foxcroft Academy 10-4 in the quarterfinals.

Hermon and Old Town split during the regular season, each winning on the other’s home field.

His coaching philosophy is to treat every practice like it’s a state championship game, reinforcing the thought that how you practice is how you play.

“(We) treat every ground ball or fly ball like it’s the final out in a state championship game,” said Jenkins, whose players respect him.

“We all have a good relationship with him,” said junior Laura Zenk. “He has a good balance. Some practices have game-like intensity but he also knows when we need to have a light environment in practice.”

“Sometimes we practice like we are playing a state championship game and other times we practice like we just won a state championship game,” said senior Jaelen Albert.

Zenk said as a result of Jenkins’ military background, he has developed a “great mindset which contributes to our positive mindset.

“Every year we pick a (special) word and this year the word is ‘perseverance.’ It fits well with his background,” said Zenk. “He has survived a lot and he has pushed us to persevere.”

“He wants us to be able to think for ourselves and be strong mentally as players,” said senior Lexey MacManus. “He doesn’t want to have to tell us everything. He wants us to grow as players.”

Zenk and MacManus also said he has fun with them.

“He is open to what we think is best for the team. It’s especially important as a new coach to take our input,” said Albert. “He’s very passionate about what he does and he tells us all the time he is proud of us. He makes us want to do well for him.”

“He has really made it clear that our input is important to him and he respects our opinions,” said Hermon junior Katie Windsor.

Jenkins, as it turns out, is an Old Town native. He didn’t play sports in high school.

“I was a typical Maine kid … I hunted and fished and I loved the woods,” he said.

Rather than follow his buddies who went to work in the mill after high school, he enlisted in the Army.

“I loved the Army,” said Jenkins. “I was lucky enough to get to experience a lot of things (my buddies) never got to experience because they never left the area. And now the mill is gone.

“I got a different perspective of the scope of the world,” said Jenkins, who also served in South Korea, Germany, Alaska and other U.S. bases.

He said national media outlets only supply viewers with a portion of what life is really like in the Middle East and they each have “their own agendas.”

He said he has moved on from his time in Iraq.

“I’m just focused establishing myself in this life. It’s like having two separate lives,” said Jenkins.

One of his final assignments in the Army was as an ROTC instructor at Boston College and Northeastern University. He retired in 2012 and returned to the area.

Jenkins was the JV assistant coach for two years but didn’t coach much last spring because he was finishing up a degree. He coached the Hermon middle school girls “A” team to a league championship last winter.

He and wife Stacy have a son, Robby Jr.

When Hermon softball coach Meg McCrum left after last season to take a teaching position in Bangor and work as assistant softball coach at Bangor High, Jenkins was appointed the Hermon coach.

“He has brought a lot of discipline to the program through his military background,” said Hermon athletic director Steph Biberstein. “He also has a lot of softball coaching experience from his time in the military. He has done a great job with the kids.”

 


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