Tallahassee-native Embracing Both Worlds, Marine and Musician
CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan – Ever since Staff Sgt. Michael Newell was a young boy, he wanted a career in music. He spent years practicing various instruments, such as the saxophone, violin, trumpet, cello, flute, clarinet and drums, hoping to one day shine in the spotlight in front of the world.
Finally, the opportunity was given to the Tallahassee, Florida native when he enlisted in the Marine Corps.
Growing up, Newell knew where he wanted to go in life, but he didn’t know how to get there. He performed in minor music venues back in his hometown, such as the Tallahassee Swing Band, Quincy Music Theater, Theatre Tallahassee, and Theatre A La Carte, but the small-time gigs didn't constitute a career.
Rather than giving up, Newell began looking at alternative paths to pursue music.
“I needed to do something different,” said Newell. “That was my mission. I had to be different from everybody else, even if that means I had to join an organization in which conformity was the key to success.”
Newell believed that being a part of something bigger rather than struggling on his own would present a better chance to launch himself and those beside him into a path of success.
Newell, a 2004 graduate of Lawton Chiles High School in Tallahassee, said he didn’t know about the opportunity the Marine Corps presented for musicians until right before he joined. His childhood best friend, former Sgt. Joseph Harris, a trombone instrumentalist, told Newell about the Musician Enlistment Option Program. The program provides Newell and other musicians the opportunity to serve their country and travel the world with their passion for music.
“I like playing music, and I also wanted to be a Marine,” said Newell, who came into the Marine Corps as a saxophone instrumentalist. “Combine those two things and there you go, that’s my motivation.”
After joining, Newell set his sights on Marine Corps Musician of the Year, which not only meant being an excellent instrumentalist, but an excellent Marine.
“Newell is a high-caliber Marine,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Andres Navarro, director and officer-in-charge of the III MEF Band. “He’s physically fit, disciplined, and an outstanding staff noncommissioned officer.”
For fiscal year 2010, then Sgt. Newell was nominated as Marine Corps Musician of the Year with the Albany Marine Band. Newell was nominated for the second time for fiscal year 2016 as Marine Corps SNCO Musician of the Year with the III MEF Band.
“It’s gratifying because I put a lot of work into producing the recording for the Musician of the Year competition,” said Newell.
Newell was not victorious on claiming either of those titles, but said he is still grateful for the opportunity the Marine Corps presented him. It gave him the chance to live a life as a musician for one of the world’s most renowned military organizations.
“I’m glad I stuck with the band, and I’m glad I found the band,” said Newell. “It was a life-changer.”
Now, as a rifleman and bandsman representing the Marine Corps in Okinawa, Newell has found his place in the spotlight.