By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
It’s no secret that the Beckley Newspapers Memorial Golf Classic — still affectionately known as the BNI — is a focal point for many of its competitors.
But that appeal is not confined to the reaches of West Virginia or even surrounding states.
The BNI is global.
Aaron Neal has called the deserts of the Middle East home for the last eight years. His responsibilities with the military took him first to Iraq, and now he lives in Afghanistan.
But, for two weeks every summer, Neal can be found in his native Beckley. The allure of the BNI is too strong to keep him across the globe.
“I’ve been over there for at least eight years, but I come in every (summer) for the BNI,” Neal said Saturday after completing his first round at Grandview Country Club. “I’m a network engineer, so I work for NATO ... I actually run our network over there.
“It’s a good job, and I always plan my vacation around coming here with my friends.”
The 1991 Woodrow Wilson graduate isn’t just serving out an enlistment. Neal has chosen to live in Afghanistan and has zero regrets about being so far from home.
“Usually people do a tour here and there. ... It’s not bad,” he said. “Actually, working with the people over there is not what people think. It’s definitely a good job. I would rather do that than sit in an office back in the States, or wherever. I enjoy it.”
Neal couldn’t get into specifics about his duties abroad, but made it sound exciting, nonetheless.
“We fly around in choppers all the time,” he said. “If I’m there for six months (for example), I probably hit about 25 bases in that amount of time, all over the place. Anything from a C-130 the Germans use, or a chopper that the U.S. uses. I like it.”
Neal, sporting a blue West Virginia University slouch cap and gray Greenbrier Classic polo, says he is able to keep up with the Mountaineers. He is more than excited for WVU’s fledgling season in the Big 12 Conference.
“I was in school at West Virginia when (quarterback Marc) Bulger and them were supposed to be big,” said Neal, who earned an engineering degree in Morgantown. “They were good, but kind of flopped. I think we will be 10 times better than that year.”
Neal doesn’t plan to live in the desert forever. In fact, he is currently in business with a friend and says that will bring him home soon.
His current living situation doesn’t lend itself to family life.
“I get pressured a lot,” Neal said, smiling. “My brother and my parents are always like, ‘Hey, when are you coming home to stay for good?’”
Until he returns permanently, Neal will concentrate on a unique job he truly enjoys.
And follow the Mountaineers, of course.
“It’s (vacation) about two weeks this time,” he said. “And my next vacation I will probably be home for Christmas and watch a bowl game with West Virginia.”
— E-mail: gfauber@