Richwoods grads takes top honors

DeWayne Bartels
Major Anthony Newtson is shown with the Military Patriot Award and The General Wayne A. Downing Award awarded to him by Goodwill Industries.

In a 19-year Army career, Peoria native Major Anthony Newtson has held many titles. After a brief visit home last week, he can add Military Patriot Award and General Wayne A. Downing Award winner to the list. 

Newtson, 38, is a 1989 Richwoods High School graduate. He arrived in Peoria late Wednesday and headed back to West Point Friday morning, where he is an instructor. In between, he attended To Honor and To Serve: The Goodwill Veterans Recognition event. There Newtson received the awards.

“I’m humbled. I truly don’t feel I deserve this,” Newtson said.

“It represents the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen making sacrifices daily.”

He expressed special praise for Duffy Armstrong and Patty Fuchs of Goodwill Industries, which put on the event, as well as Mike Dimmick and Mrs. Downing and the sponsors.

Newtson said he was especially touched by the number of people attending the event who were not veterans. He said that spoke volumes to him about the support the troops have among the general public in Peoria.

Winding path

Newtson has followed a winding road in his military career. Upon graduation from Richwoods, he enlisted in the Army.

Just two weeks after becoming a private in the Airborne Rangers, he was headed to Panama as part of “Operation Just Cause.”

From there he rose in the ranks making it to staff sergeant. He was then selected for officer’s candidate school, while still having only a two-year college degree.

After graduation from officer’s school he became a captain, overseeing 176 soldiers and $45 million worth of equipment. In November 2003, he and his troops were deployed to Iraq with the First Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Mosul.

For one year, Newtson and his troops provided security and services to Iraqis without the loss of a single military life.

While Newtson was prepared for the military aspect of his duties, he had to do much more than sling a weapon.

Newtson became a bit of a diplomat as well.

“We focused a lot of time on getting schools built and repairing sewers, in additional to providing security,” Newtson said.

He dealt with translators, with 31 different village leaders, 350 Iraqi police and Iraqi National Guard troops.

“The Iraqi people embraced what we were doing,” Newtson said.

“But, this work definitely put me outside my comfort zone. I definitely earned a degree in international relations there.”

Newtson said he misses the work on the ground in Iraq, but said his teaching work at West Point is a worthwhile service.

“You have to train and prepare future soldiers,” he said.  

Downing story

Newtson smiled just a bit when he relayed a story about General Downing.

Newtson said he served under Downing for 11 years. He met Downing just once. He was preparing to deploy to Haiti in 1994 when Downing showed up.

“He was one of those rare generals,” Newtson said.

“He stopped at my squad. I have a picture of him with his arm around me. At the time I had no idea he was from Peoria, too.”