Ensign Billy Newell received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for saving a choking officer. (Navy)
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Ensign Billy Newell, seen here demonstrating proper first aid, saved a woman from choking using his emergency medical responder training. (PMRF)
Ensign Billy Newell was enjoying a dinner with co-workers when a woman started choking on a bite of steak.
Newell sprung into action and saved her life. But it wasn't his first act of heroism. The 36-year-old security limited duty officer has been cited for three separate life-saving actions.
In addition, he's getting more sailors trained up so they, too, can be first responders in times of crisis.
For his most recent heroism, Newell received the Lifesaver Hero of the Year award from the Hawaii State Chapter of the American Red Cross on Oct. 13 in Honolulu. He also received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal — his seventh.
"I was proud and humbled to receive it, but my award came that night — when we cleared the airway obstruction and she actually breathed," Newell said.
Newell, the installation security officer at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, was attending a dinner with fellow officers March 16 when the female officer, a pilot, began choking. Newell immediately began the Heimlich maneuver, but was unable to dislodge the obstruction.
"I've seen choking before, but that's the first time I've seen an obstruction so deep inside the airway that I couldn't see it," said Newell, who has served 18 years in the Navy, leaving the enlisted ranks in 2011 as a master-at-arms first class.
The Mustang performed the Heimlich maneuver and back blows — striking the victim between the shoulder blades with the heel of the hand — but the woman "turned purple" and lost consciousness, he said. At that point, he laid the woman down and began CPR.
"I was really concerned," he said. "In the distance, I could hear the sirens, and I never gave up hope."
Finally, after the fourth set of CPR, Newell tried chest thrusts again and cleared the piece of food. Cmdr. Garron Morris, the executive officer at the facility, said even though Newell was the lowest-ranked officer in the room, he took control of the situation.
"We were very lucky to have him there," Morris said. "There's no question in my mind that his immediate action and response saved his shipmate's life."
Newell credits his time in the Navy with keeping him calm and focused under pressure.
Newell's first act of heroism was in 1997. There was a car crash in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in which three people were injured and three were killed. Marines, sailors and civilians were in the car. When Newell arrived on the scene, he applied bandages and pressure dressings to one of the victims, who ultimately survived.
In a letter of appreciation from his commanding officer, Newell was recognized for both providing aid to the victims of the crash and comforting other sailors who were traumatized by seeing the accident.
"That painted the picture for me that security needs to have at least a basic level of qualification in first aid if not higher, since we're always the first ones at the scene," Newell said.
In 2008, he treated a civilian mariner who had a heart attack on the fleet replenishment oiler John Lenthall. Newell was serving as the mission commander in charge of the embarked security team. Newell assisted the medical officer onboard by starting an IV and administering oxygen, according to his NAM citation.
This was his first NAM of seven. His next five did not involve life saving, although one did involve scaring off a small boat full of pirates in Somalia in 2008.
Newell has done even more to save lives by creating an emergency medical responder program at PMRF that requires all Navy police officers and master-at-arms to be certified as emergency medical responders through the American Safety and Health Institute. The first group of responders was certified in July.
"I think it's a great idea," Morris said of the training. "At certain times in the day, there may only be one medical team in the local community. If they were on a call, it could delay someone getting medical attention."