News: Yesterday's sergeants major, today's chaplains
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Teresa Adams
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — With a combined total of 60 years of service, two former reserve component sergeants major are currently serving as chaplains and both are deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Of the soldiers who enlist in the Army, very few reach the rank of sergeant major. In the history of the Army only two sergeants major have become chaplains.
The life of a noncommissioned officer is very different from that of a commissioned officer. These men rose to the challenge by successfully bridging the gap between their enlisted careers and becoming chaplains.
Maj. James A. Freitag, an Army Reserve component chaplain assigned to the 122nd Chaplain’s Detachment, Seagoville, Texas, is deployed as the operations chaplain for Area Support Group Kuwait. He joined the military as a Marine in 1976 and continued his career by enlisting in the Army Reserve.
Freitag attended the Sergeants Major Academy, class 51, as an infantryman and served as a class vice-president His was the last class held at the academy prior to the tragic events of 9/11.
“Having been through all the enlisted ranks makes it much easier for me to counsel soldiers because I have been there,” said Freitag.
1st Lt. Cecil D. Edwards, also a reserve component chaplain for the 349th Combat Support Hospital, (FWD), Bell, Calif., is deployed as the chaplain for the U.S. Army Hospital, Kuwait. He began his career in the Army as an active duty military intelligence soldier and Korean linguist.
In 2006, Edwards attended the Sergeants Major Academy, class 57, while serving as the director of instruction for the 104th Human Resources Reclassification School at Camp Parks, Calif.
“My enlisted background lays the groundwork for immediate connections with soldiers," said Edwards. "However, personal integrity and making an effort to bond to soldiers in the here-and-now are key to making a lasting impact."
These men of the cloth took similar but unusual career paths and remained vigilant for years as they fulfilled several higher educational requirements. After attaining positions as the Army's senior enlisted advisors, they were guided toward a different path and joined the Chaplaincy. Today, they help service members and their families by providing spiritual advice and counseling along with many other services.
As former noncommissioned officers, they faced personal challenges and encountered many obstacles as they made their decisions to enter the world of the commissioned officer. Both chaplains were commissioned as they won the unofficial race against Army age requirements. Freitag needed to receive his direct commission prior to turning 42, and Edwards before his 50th birthday.
"After 9/11 one of my church elders encouraged me to explore the chaplain's field," said Freitag. “I received an age waiver in 2004 and I was able to attend the Chaplain's Basic Course."
"At the time I sensed the calling I was almost 49 and about to be deployed,” said Edwards. “But God helped me while in Afghanistan to complete my third graduate degree, becoming a chaplain just three weeks before my 50th birthday.”
Army chaplains encounter a variety of situations and are looked at to be the source of strength during some of the most trying times in the lives of soldiers and their families. Unlike ministers or pastors, these officers are called not only to serve God but their country as well.
Freitag finds great satisfaction by guiding soldiers to the right sources and getting them the assistance they need.
“I felt like I made a difference in the lives of six soldiers that me and my team of six referred to behavioral health due to suicidal ideation during this deployment," said Freitag. "They were evacuated out of the combat zone and got the help they so desperately needed."
Edwards’ experience and training as a readjustment counselor at the Vet Center in East Los Angeles greatly enhances his ability to effectively counsel soldiers.
“One of our medics had a flashback during combat simulation training and he thought he was back in the combat zone." said Edwards. "He was embarrassed about talking about it but he appreciated that he could talk to a chaplain with complete confidentiality.”
These gentlemen have made the transition from senior enlisted advisor to chaplain with dedication and determination and with more than a little help from God.
Throughout his career, Freitag loved ministering. While serving as commandant for the 12th Battalion (RC) Noncommissioned Officer School at Fort Lewis, Wash., he also served as a pastor in Graham, Wash. After reaching the career milestone of serving as a sergeant major he received his direct commission as a chaplain in 2003.
“God has always opened doors for me to do the things that have allowed me to be both a pastor and an Army chaplain," said Freitag. "In 2003, the military and my church ministry became one.”
For many years, Edwards had contemplated becoming a chaplain but set the idea aside because he did not sense a calling.
“Then one day, out of the blue, the call came and I surrendered to it," said Edwards. "God is never late; he had some things for me to learn during my 25 years as an enlisted soldier."
Both chaplains believe that the Army gives soldiers the opportunity to find their niche and fulfill their destinies. These men have 'been there' and done things that most service members have yet to experience.
“Consider the opportunities, research them and weigh the facts," said Freitag. "If you can be a more effective soldier serving God and country by becoming an officer, do it."
“God calls all of us to a purpose greater than ourselves," stated Edwards. "I would tell every soldier to ‘Honor the Call.’"