By Wallace McBride, Fort Jackson LeaderApril 11, 2014
FORT JACKSON, S.C. (April 10, 2014) -- Task Force Marshall Chaplain James Freitag was promoted to lieutenant colonel last week during a ceremony at McGrady Training Center, which makes him one of very few Soldiers who have served in the ranks of command sergeant major and lieutenant colonel.
Friends, family and colleagues gathered April 2 for the event, which was fraught with an overabundance of information. Freitag's personal and professional background was simply too complex to be addressed in much detail.
"The reason we don't have biographies of Chaplain Freitag printed up today is because his bio is seven pages long," Col. Mark Bieger, commander of the 171st Infantry Brigade, told the gathering last week. "Most bios in the Army are one or two pages. Freitag's bio is literally seven pages long. It's amazing as you dig into the details of his service in the military."
Freitag began his military career as a Marine, a career course that was quickly changed.
"It didn't click for me," Freitag said. "I stayed with it for two and a half years. I finished a little bit of graduate school and was teaching high school in 1983, and computers were coming out. I decided I needed computer training, but I was broke. I was paying student loans, and making 12 grand a year as a school teacher."
He took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test again, and was welcomed into the Army Reserve with open arms.
"They told me I could be anything I wanted," he said.
His original Army military occupational specialty allowed him to receive computer training: Fire direction control computer repair. Unfortunately, it was the wrong MOS for the unit to which he was assigned.
"I ended up spending nine months between basic training and AIT to work a mission that I never did," he said. "That's why I had so many reclassifications. The reserve system has its own school system, so if you move to a location and can't find a unit, most will take you on a well-trained status. That's how I was able to pick up some of these military occupational specialties."
He quickly ascended through the enlisted ranks, but despite the considerable success of his career, Freitag's life took yet another turn. There was outside pressure, both personal and professional, to push his spiritual life into the forefront.
"Since I wasn't ordained, I didn't qualify for the chaplaincy," he said. "I was serving in a church in Portland, Ore., and they told me I ought to be a pastor. So, I went back to seminary in 1998 and got promoted to sergeant major while I was there."
After that, he was given the opportunity to attend the Sergeants Major Academy. He attended the academy as an infantryman and served as a class vice-president. His was the last class taught at the academy before 9/11.
"While I was at the academy, the deputies put the screws to me and said I needed to be a chaplain," he said. "But, we looked into it, and it turned out I was too old."
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything, though. Almost immediately, the Army found itself with a shortage of chaplains. His reserve status began to open doors that were previously closed.
"They told me, 'We'll keep you in the reserve system. You've got the background and the credentials,'" Freitag said.
Freitag received a direct commission and attended the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School as a chaplain candidate.
As of May 27, Freitag will be the director of religious education at Fort Irwin, Calif. It's a civilian position, but he said he has no plans yet to retire from the reserves.
"There are only 28 DRE positions in the entire Army," he said. "We don't have one here at Fort Jackson, but you'll find them at bigger installations. What they do in a civilian capacity is support the chapel, the ministries and the chaplains on the installation as a GS employee in the realm of religious education."