Newell, a specialist in the 167th Infantry Battalion, Foxtrot Co., in the National Guard, spent the past nine months in Afghanistan. Newell’s job was in security and one of the things he did was provide safety for convoys.
Newell has been a member of the day camp staff at the community center for several years where it’s his job to make sure 90 children get in a little education while having a lot of fun. He also helps out during baseball season.
The children wanted to surprise Newell with a party, complete with a large American flag which had imprints of their small hands in red and blue. Newell thought he was going to speak to them about his experiences in Afghanistan, but to his surprise, that’s not what happened.
“Talk about surprise,” said Newell. “I had no idea. I was totally surprised. It’s nice to know that I have so much support and that people care about me. I thought I was going to be talking to the kids, but I walked in and a big party was going on.”
Family members and friends were among those present
Newell graduated from Jacksonville High School in 2010. He’s attending Gadsden State. He is the son of Lynn Hedgepath and Mike Newell and the brother of Julianna Newell. His grandparents are David and Linda Hedgepath.
Day camp director Cindy Manning coordinated the event.
“We do a theme week each week during camp,” she said. “This was Patriotic Week, so we decided that it would be fitting to give Knox a welcome home party. He was moved by it. He wasn’t expecting it. He’s very humble about his service. I think the way he sees it, it was his job to protect his country and he didn’t do anything special.”
Manning said she and other staff members, as well as the children, felt differently, thus the reason for the celebration. Community center director Janis Burns agrees.
“Knox is a great role model for the youth in today’s society,” said Burns. “He was working with our department when he was called into active duty last year. Our department missed him on a daily basis, and we’re glad to have him safely back home and working with us again. We thank him for his service to our country. We’re very proud of him.”
Knox said he’s happy to be home and working with the children again.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “We always have a lot of fun. They keep me busy. I thought about them a lot when I was gone.”
One of the children in the day camp, Madi Champion, 12, was in on the surprise.
“About two years ago, when I started coming here, he was one of the counselors,” she said. “He’s a nice guy. He’s true to his country and humble.”
Aden Mann, 6, said that Newell “is an Army man. He’s fine. He played with me at the pool.” Aden said he’s glad his friend is home.
Friend and co-worker Hunter Green helped plan the celebration. “The kids wrote him letters,” said Green. “They missed him. We wanted to show him we appreciate him and love him.”
Community center program coordinator Ed Canady said he’s known Newell since he was in seventh grade. Newell played football when Canady was a trainer and was on the state championship track team which Canady coached.
“He’s a determined young man,” said Canady. “I noticed when he was younger he always wanted to succeed and be the best in everything he did. It was about his senior year that he developed an interest in the military. At that time, he was one of the original members of the after school program at the community center. From his early teens, I knew he had good work ethics. Of course, I tried to steer him toward the Air Force because that’s what I was in, but he chose the Army.”
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