Air Force captain becomes Army specialist in career change
January 13, 2012
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Going from green to gold is a familiar transformation in the Army. But switching from being an officer to an enlisted man while changing service branches is far less common.
Yet that's exactly what Joe Newsom did, choosing to continue serving the best way he knew how.
"I always understood I would retire as a captain," he said despite having to work his way up the enlisted ranks to master sergeant during 20 years of Army service.
His story is one of choices, with a military retirement as the ultimate goal. His choices also led him to a fulfilling career, culminating as an Army senior chaplain assistant noncommissioned officer, something which Newsom fit perfectly.
"I was happy to have anything steady in my life," Newsom explained. He said he views being a chaplain assistant as a "calling" and not a job. "I am a Christian; it just seems to fit."
Newsom, 57, is assigned to the Army Sustainment Command's Chaplain's Office. By this summer, he will be retired from the Army, receiving a captain's pension for 20-plus years of active-duty service.
"It was after he had served with us for a few weeks when I heard of his former career as an officer," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Charles Rizer, ASC chaplain. "He carries himself humbly, yet confidently. He has an adventuresome character and I supposed that once he came back into the military he wanted to experience it from a different perspective. It fits his personality."
Despite some arthritic knees, Newsom looks much younger than his years, with a full head of brown hair and a youthful appearance. He said he loves science fiction, history, and coin collecting. He even made two parachute jumps harnessed to one of the Army's Golden Knights parachute team.
A Montgomery, Ala., native, Newsom's transformation began when he received his commission in June 1976 from Auburn University's Air Force ROTC program.
"I was hoping to eventually do something in computers," the math major said. For nearly 12 years he did, leading the life of an Air Force missile launch officer of nuclear weapons.
After serving at air bases in South Dakota and Montana and one air station in Italy, Newsom's Air Force career came to an end after being passed over twice for promotion.
"The impression we had was that if you kept your nose clean you could stay in," he said, adding he was disappointed in how things turned out.
For the next three years he was an Air Force Individual Ready Reservist. In the spring of 1992 Newsom joined the Army Reserve.
"It was such a wonderful feeling to be in uniform," he said.
With the end of one career, another eventually emerged as Newsom decided he would like "some sort of military retirement" via the Army Reserve.
"Would I come in as an officer or enlisted? It really didn't matter," Newsom said, recalling issues he pondered in his quest for a military retirement. What the Army offered was coming in as an enlisted man, serving as a chaplain assistant at the rank of specialist.
Newsom accepted and entered the Army at age 38.
Because of his religious upbringing and faith that has sustained him throughout his life, being a chaplain assistant seemed logical and something he could embrace for a military career.
"I've been religious all my life," Newsom said of his Methodist upbringing. At age 6, he was confirmed by his church -- something usually done in the teenage years. "I recognized I was a Christian and took it seriously."
"Being a chaplain assistant, the Army allows me to do things I love [like] practice my beliefs," he said. "I'm not in other people's food chains. I enjoy what I do and God's blessed me to do it."
So for a decade, Newsom was a drilling reservist, working part time up to 35 hours weekly in the civilian world, and taking classes in microcomputers and information technology. His aspirations of attaining a second bachelor's degree didn't pan out, nor did his dreams of getting married. On top of that, he was experiencing financial woes in 2002.
"I'm not taking things seriously enough to challenge myself," he said of those times, describing himself then as "content" and "settled for" and at times "lazy." But his faith led him along to persevere.
In May 2004, things changed for Newsom as he was called to active duty at Fort Bragg, N.C. He served in a variety of units as a chaplain assistant until May 2011, when he joined the ASC staff.
Newsom said he was amazed he was able to rise in the enlisted ranks to master sergeant without having to change his military occupational specialty, as is common in the Army Reserve. He started out and will retire as a chaplain assistant being promoted four times in 18 years.
"To get [E]-6, 7, 8, where do you go, except travel hundreds of miles [to a new unit] possibly to another state, for a new job specialty," he said, recalling the challenges of his low-density occupation as a chaplain assistant.
But, promotions kept coming for Newsom after being mobilized in 2004. Coming on to active duty as a staff sergeant, he was assigned to the 2125th Garrison Support Unit. Newsom made the next rank, sergeant first class, in 2006, then master sergeant in 2010. He served in the Garrison Chaplain's Office, with the XVlll Airborne Corps rear detachment and in the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team rear detachment while mobilized at Fort Bragg.
His promotion to master sergeant was "icing on the cake," Newsom said. Newsom explained that he didn't update his records for the convening promotion board because he thought he was more useful as a sergeant first class.
"Imagine my surprise ... when friends informed me that they saw my name on the promotion list," he said. "To me, it's unusual for the Reserve. God had a hand in it."
"I don't believe in coincidences. He [God] must want me to be an E-8," Newsom said.
Whether it's aiding burn victims or counseling suicidal people, Newsom said he's very satisfied with his vocation. "The fact that I can affect people's lives is amazing, which, in turn, can affect me," he said.
When working with burn victims, Newsom said his ability to maintain eye contact is very important. "I could afford them the dignity they deserved," he said.
Asked if he carries himself an officer or NCO, Newsom replied, "I'm both."
One of Newsom's subordinates had this to say: "Master Sergeant Newsom seems to me to be a combo of the two," said Staff Sgt. Richard Noel, ASC chaplain assistant operations noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "Even more importantly he seems to be down to earth ... what you see is what you get. Also, he
has compassion and heart for helping people -- something that never changes no matter your rank, military or civilian."
"He seems like a Senior NCO who is not intimidated by anyone but who treats everyone with the same amount of respect," said Rizer, Newsom's boss. "He is courteous to all Soldiers and civilians regardless of rank or grade. He once was a door-to-door salesman and learned to be considerate of other's feelings and opinions."
As Newsom ponders his retirement years, he's not sure what he will be doing, but said he favors living in the Fayetteville, N.C., area where he spent nearly seven years mobilized at Fort Bragg.
"I'm wide open to the place," he said of the GI-influenced city. "I have some friends there…job prospects are better."
As with other choices in his life, he said he will keep an open mind and be faith-driven in his decisions.