CHARLESTON – A steady rain that blanketed the boys state track and field finals on Saturday morning and afternoon made for a less than idyllic scene.
Don't tell that to Jerry Newman, however. It's a lot better than he's seen for the past 9 months.
Newman, 45, has been a member of the Illinois National Guard for the past 27 years. He recently returned from his second tour of duty, a 9-month stint in Afghanistan. He made it back to Illinois on May 16, a day before the 1A Oregon Sectional, and in time to see his sons, Garrett and Nick, compete.
"It's been a lot of fun," Jerry said of watching his boys run track, "but it's kind of bittersweet. Garrett graduates, so I only got to see him run in two meets, but Nick, I'll get to watch him next season. It's a double-edged sword, I guess."
Newman's first overseas deployment was about 8 years ago, when he spent 18 months in Iraq. This time around, he went to Afghanistan as part of a 16-member Illinois National Guard contingent. They worked in conjunction with the Polish Army to train Afghanistan police and army personnel.
It got a little dicey at times.
"We would get in direct fire," Newman said. "They would loft mortar rounds or artillery rounds where we were at once in a while."
Newman was supposed to return in early April, in time to watch the bulk of the Oregon track season. Instead, his stay got extended by about 6 weeks.
The goal then was to be able to be home for the Oregon senior awards ceremony on May 14. Garrett, who will head off to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs next month, received a host of honors, including the Marine Corps Scholar Award, the Sons of the American Revolution Award and the Great Citizen Award.
Jerry missed that night, but was happy to make it back for the sectional.
"He's always been supportive of everything I've wanted to do," Garrett said. "He doesn't care what I do, as long as I go out and do my best. That's been his words to live by."
In the fall, Nick Newman will be a senior, and his dad plans to be in the stands for all his football games and track meets.
"I didn't like missing what I missed this spring," he said, "and I'll be at everything next year. Hopefully I'll be back in Charleston again."
High School: Dixon, class of 1986
College: Illinois State, class of 1992
FYI: Deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan as a lieutenant colonel in Illinois National Guard in 2005-06 and again in 2012-13. … Sons Garrett and Nick members of Oregon track team