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Colonel Forrest R. Newton, US Army, is not your typical Active Duty solider. He has called nine presidents his Commander in Chief, worn a U.S. military uniform in each of the last six decades with both the Marines and Army, and is one of the last few remaining Active Duty military members with service in the Vietnam War.
Standing statuesquely with broad shoulders and a deep voice, Col. Newton was born in Detroit into a long lineage of auto industry workers and military servicemen dating as far back as the Battle of Gettysburg. Of his childhood, he reflected that "the only thing that was talked about was join the military, do your time, come to work in the factory."
Col. Newton, however, has gone far beyond 'doing his time.' He has distinguished himself in each phase of his military career, beginning with his service in the Que Son Valley of Vietnam, where he survived two injuries and bravely served under then-platoon leader, now former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace. Since that time, he has carried out missions in Korea, Iraq, Kuwait, Haiti, and stateside challenges such as Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Moreover, as a holder of a BA and two masters degrees, Col. Newton has held a wide range of command, staff and operational assignments throughout his career, including service as the Director of the Army Services & Infrastructure Core Enterprise Team, Provost Marshal Multi-National Force and Multi-National Corps Iraq, Commander Area I Korea, Inspector General Fifth United States Army, Commander 728th Military Police Battalion, Deputy Director of Military Education U.S. Military Academy, Deputy Brigade Commander 16th Military Police Brigade Airborne.
He describes his military service as “a calling” fueled by a twofold desire—to improve the life of military members, and to help those who suffer beneath the rule of “bullies” who threaten democracy. Col. Newton also strongly values the principles of great leadership, as illustrated by his historical study of the subject. He has repeatedly read and analyzed the Constitution as he strives to embody the spirit of its tenets. Furthermore, having served under and taken cues from nine presidents, Col. Newton has an enduring respect for all the “Commanders in Chief” who work to defend our nation against those who wish us harm. He remarks, “I have seen the actions they have to do and decisions they have to make and blame they have to take. I think most presidents, when they make decisions, do it for duty, not political reasons.”
With a deep well of experiences and memories, Col. Newton speaks of leadership concepts as if it were burned in his DNA. He enumerated on a few: “Leaders need to have competency. You have to show up and be competent” and “You don’t have to be a jerk and a bully to be a leader. People will follow and trust people they believe in. Part of leadership is earning that trust.”
Among the Vietnam generation, there has been a necessary and understandable desire for recognition and closure, most recently exemplified this month when President Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Vietnam veteran Leslie H. Sabo. Col. Newton understands that present actions are essential to saluting the past, commenting that “there’s a sense among the American people that it is time to say ‘thank you and we get it’.” He also believes that the current state of affairs since 9/11 has contributed to our national understanding—“After 10 years of war in this country, the people now understand. They see the American solider perform.” In his description of the young American soldier, he drew a clear connection to Vietnam veterans: “They are talking about movies and movie stars like any other kid, but they are as tough as any other person on earth, and they are unafraid. Because of them… the [American] people have to come to a point to say ‘these kids are the same as Vietnam Veterans.’” And, like Vietnam and all veterans, they deserve respect and recognition for their service.
Col. Newton, as part of his support of Commemoration Programs approved by the Secretary of Defense, is currently working to coordinate the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam War, to be celebrated this spring and through the rest of the year. He also travels the country to tell stories of his service, most recently speaking of the enduring qualities of Vietnam veterans at the New York City Vietnam Recognition Day.
In the future, Col. Newton looks foreword to a laidback lifestyle living near family in Huntsville, Alabama. In particular, he wishes to spend his time fishing, playing golf, and celebrating the professional success of his daughter, a doctor. However, even in retirement, Colonel Newton will remain a devout believer in the marks of leadership and the nation’s liberties we enjoy today.
“Being an American is not being obedient out of blind obedience, but your responsibility for the pursuit of happiness,” he says. “Participate in the process.” Colonel Newton has unquestionably participated in that process through his proud service to our nation.
Note: Elizabeth Drew Higgins, Veterans Advantage Associate Editor, edited this profile.
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