Petty Officer First Class Travis Newman of Gillsburg is proud of the award that put his name on a Navy jet, no doubt. But he’s even prouder of the fact that his hometown of Gillsburg is listed there, too — which, by the way, is bound to be a historical first.
Newman, 30, won the 2020 SCW-1 Bill Bright Maintainer of the Year Award for his innovative work maintaining Navy aircraft at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City — work that has saved the Navy millions of dollars.
Part of his recognition is having his name and hometown on the side of a Navy Boeing 707 for a year.
“My name goes on a hangar bay and on a jet with Gillsburg, Miss. That’s what I’m most proud of, is having Gillsburg on the side of a multi-multi-million dollar nuclear asset,” Newman said Wednesday while home on leave for a week visiting his grandparents, Jimmy Dale and Margie Newman of Gillsburg.
“Gillsburg’s great, the community here,” Newman said. “The entire community helped raise me.”
Newman graduated from Parklane Academy and attended Southwest Mississippi Community College for a semester before enlisting in the Navy. He trained in aviation electronics at Pensacola, Fla. — but he was already way ahead of the game.
Growing up, he learned mechanic work from his Pawpaw Newman — who ran a John Deere dealership in Gillsburg for years — as well as electronics, plumbing, heating and air-conditioning while working for Danny Williams of B&W Air Conditioning as a teen.
Newman’s father, the late Danny Newman, was also a major inspiration, too.
Along the way, Newman learned troubleshooting, which would pay off big for the Navy later.
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After aviation electronics training, Newman was posted at Tinker AFB for two years, then served as a Navy recruiter in North Carolina.
“That was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done,” he said, referring to the salesmanship involved.
By that time, he was divorced with sole custody of a daughter, Avelynn. He hired a woman named Sharon to babysit, little dreaming she would one day become his mother-in-law. Newman became such good friends with Sharon and her husband Don that he wound up moving in with them to save money.
He later helped their daughter, Miranda, move back home from Florida — then Travis and Miranda began dating. They later married and now have another daughter, Dani, 1, and a baby on the way.
After three years as a recruiter — during which time he advanced to first class petty officer — Newman returned to Tinker AFB, where he’s been ever since, serving as an Aviation Electronics Technician.
He leads 279 sailors at 11 work centers working on “heavily modified” Boeing 707s. He’s responsible for all the flight deck avionics including GPS and IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) systems.
His group is called TACAMO — Take Charge and Move Out. Their goal is nuclear deterrent.
“We are 24/7, 365 ready,” Newman said.
“We are a no-fail mission. We cannot fail. Our enemy knows we have these assets. They won’t attack us because they know we will retaliate.”
That spirit prevailed even during the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected their staff and added to their workload.
“The sailors at TACAMO have stood strong and carried out their mission,” said Newman, who found himself working 14 hours a day seven days a week. Because of the pandemic he hasn’t been home for their past year and a half, until last week.
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Newman put his troubleshooting skills to work for the Navy to solve a longstanding aircraft antenna reception problem.
“Nobody had been able to fix it in five or six years,” he said. “I went out and started fixing them with my sailors.”
He developed a troubleshooting system that garnered him the MILCAP (Military Cash Awards Program citation).
“His efforts directly resulted in the reduction of 86.5 man-hours per evolution and saved the Navy in excess of $3 million,” said a letter of commendation from Capt. Anthony Barnes.
Newman said he used the “good old boy” skills he acquired in his youth.
“I was able to redneck-engineer it using a DirecTV dish like you use at your home,” he said. “When I go back this week I’ll be writing procedures.
“All my skills I attribute to Gillsburg. That’s why I’m so proud.”
Longterm, Newman plans to retire in another 10 years or so and come back South.
“When I retire, we’re coming back to Mississippi. I’ve always dreamed of building a home in Gillsburg,” he said.
He’s already working on an associate degree in electrical engineering and would like to get a bachelor’s in industrial engineering at University of Southern Mississippi after he retires from the Navy.
Whatever he decides, it’s a safe bet Newman will Take Charge and Move Out.