2009 Coastguardsman of the Year
EM2 Charles Newton
He and wife Irisha have a 5-year-old son, Charles Javion, and newborn daughter, Cassidy
CLEVELAND — For Charles Newton, the Coast Guard recruitment commercial came at just the right time one night in June 2005. His tricked-out 2000 Dodge Intrepid with fancy rims and tinted windows had been stolen that day, and he was fed up with living with crime in Cleveland.
"I have to get out of here," Newton recalled thinking.
Newton called the Coast Guard recruiter the next day and went to boot camp in Cape May, N.J., two weeks later.
In just four years, Newton became a star aboard the crew of the icebreaking tug Neah Bay. For his dedication on board, and for leading efforts to volunteer for Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity and scheduling blood drives, he is the 2009 Navy Times Coast Guardsman of the Year.
Newton, 24, emerged from a rough childhood. Newton and his mother lived in fear of his disturbed older brother, who eventually was stabbed to death inside the house when he attacked another of Newton's siblings in 1993.
His brother's name is tattooed within a cross on his right arm.
"His thoughts weren't right, but in the long run, he's still my brother," he said.
Newton hung out with the wrong crowd in high school and barely graduated. But his life veered from its destructive path when he fathered a son at the age of 19.
"I started looking at the way I was going," Newton said. "Once I made that commitment [to change], I was determined."
Two-and-a-half years before joining the Coast Guard, he got a job teaching life skills to mentally challenged adults. He studied to be a nurse at Cuyahoga Community College, then changed his major to education.
"I liked helping people, but I wanted to help them at a younger age," Newton said.
Newton found himself switching paths again when his car got stolen.
After boot camp in September 2005, Newton went straight to electrician's mate "A" school.
Once on board Neah Bay, Newton took on as many collateral duties as he could. He took charge of the ship's inventory control program and reduced it by nearly a third, according to Lt. Jeff Barnum, the former executive officer of Neah Bay. Newton freed up storage space and was able to return $9,700 in unused spare parts.
Because of Newton's drive to learn more, he was able to stand in while a chief was on leave in January 2008.
"He really accelerated his development," said Lt. William Woityra, Neah Bay's commanding officer.
Newton's drive helped Neah Bay recover from a crippling steering casualty. Newton served as an adviser during the $750,000 main propulsion controller upgrade and worked six days a week for nearly two months to get the system ready.
In December, Newton canceled surgery for a deviated septum to finish his qualification to become engineering officer of the watch so he could substitute for an injured shipmate.
And when Newton learned last fall that his mentor, former Chief Electrician's Mate James Lampert, had leukemia, Newton organized a blood drive, Woityra said.
Newton also jump-started a volunteer project with Habitat for Humanity and got crew members to donate 325 hours last year. And he made time to mentor students at his former junior high school, Cleveland's Garrett Morgan School of Science.
On June 15, Newton transferred to Coast Guard Sector Boston, where he will provide electrical engineering support. Neah Bay had to farm out his many collateral duties to several people, Woityra said.
Before he left Cleveland, Newton contacted the Red Cross chapter in Boston to volunteer for disaster relief. He also said he hopes to finish college and eventually go to Officer Candidate School. Just as Newton's right arm bears reminders of his painful past, his left arm reflects a happier present: The names of his wife, Irisha, and 5-year-old, Charles Javion, are inked below the words, "Heaven Sent." The name of his daughter, Cassidy, will join them soon.
He wears his Coast Guard ring on his right hand with pride.
"I don't think there's any better job," Newton said.