Elite Army Reserve Chaplain reflects on more than three decades of historic service

By Story by Sgt. 1st Class Brent PowellJune 15, 2017

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Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Brent Powell | Army Reserve Lt. Col. James A. Freitag, staff chaplain, 335th Signal Command (Theater) addresses a group of Soldiers after being awarded a Meritorious Service Medal during an awards ceremony at the unit headquar... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

EAST POINT, GEORGIA -- Most enlisted Soldiers aspire to reach the top of the enlisted ranks during their career, but few will ever achieve that lofty goal, and even fewer will ever take a different career path afterwards, but that is precisely what one Soldier here did during an impressive career spanning more than 36 years.

Lt. Col. James A. Freitag, staff chaplain, 335th Signal Command (Theater) was promoted to the rank of command sergeant major in May 2001 after 18-years of service as an enlisted Soldier. A year and a half later following the tragic terrorist events of Sept. 11, 2001 he took a direct commission to captain to join the chaplain corps. When he graduated the chaplain's course in May 2003, Freitag became one of only two Soldiers in the history of the U.S. Army to transition from command sergeant major to chaplain.

"The reason I decided to join the chaplain corps was 9/11," said the Bremerton, Washington native. "If 9/11 hadn't happened I would have never become a chaplain and I would have never received a commission. Because of 9/11 the need was there and my two loves merged at that time; my military career and my church ministry."

Now 14-years after becoming a chaplain, Freitag, a 59-year-old son of a WWII Navy veteran is just months away from retirement. As his career draws to a close, he recently paused to reflect back on more than three decades of enlisted and commissioned service.

His service began, not in the Army, but as an officer candidate with the United States Marine Corps Reserve in 1976. "I joined the Marine Corps with the assumption I would become a Marine aviator," he said. "But the program just didn't feel right."

Three years later Freitag left the Marine Corps Reserve behind and didn't look at the military again until May 1983 when he enlisted in the Army Reserve and attended Army Basic Training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. "At that time the Army was offering computer training and a $2000 enlistment bonus," he said. "That was a pretty sweet deal in 1983."

When he graduated boot camp his passion for the Army began to grow, and it along with his drive and determination propelled him through a vast variety of challenges and assignments across the country and across the world for the next 18 years as he climbed through the enlisted ranks and attained command sergeant major.

"When I decided to transition into the chaplain corps, as a command sergeant major most were supportive of my decision," he said. "But some thought I was nuts. One of my Soldiers at the time even asked, 'why on earth would you become a chaplain to speak to God, when you are a command sergeant major and you talk to him on a daily basis?'"

Freitag has no regrets about his decision to leave the enlisted ranks and join the chaplain corps. "I feel very honored to have served as a chaplain," he said. "I've always enjoyed addressing people's spiritual and personal needs. I wouldn't do anything different."

The way Freitag does things is a direct reflection of his motto he has carried with him for most of his life. "If you are going to do something, do it well," said Freitag, referring to advice that his father had given him as a child.

He also offers a bit of advice for those who want to be better leaders and achieve success in their careers and their lives. "You can always learn from a leader, even if they are a bad leader," he said. "You can learn what to be and what not to be. Identify the qualities of a leader you want to be and emulate those qualities into your life.

"Secondly, never think you have a full understanding of what is going on, because there may be a higher power at work. Don't cut the situation short, because it may turn out to be in your benefit down the road. God's got a sense of humor."

Freitag has certainly had his share of success throughout his career, he has been awarded seven Meritorious Service Medals, six Army Commendation Medals, and five Army Achievement Medals as well as a host of other medals and awards. He has held many leadership positions including chaplain instructor, command chaplain, instructor at both the Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course and Platoon Leader Development Courses as well as numerous other successful assignments.

"I truly believe that God has blessed me more during my time in the Army Reserve than during any other time in my life," he said. "The blessings have been just enormous."

For those who know him best or have worked with him during his distinguished career, it seems Freitag has left an impression that will last long after he retires.

"Lt. Col. Freitag is a sergeant major and a chaplain rolled into one," said Lt. Col. Michael D. Jaques, deputy command chaplain, 335th SC (T). "He is a very knowledgeable and direct leader, but he also has a pastoral and caring side as well. He is very unique in the fact that he can take charge of operations on one hand, then turn around and lead a chapel service that afternoon."

"He is very resourceful and very driven," said Capt. Xavier Creekmur, command chaplain, 94th Chaplain Detachment, 335th SC (T). "He really makes things happen and that's a valuable trait in a leader that you don't find often."

As far as his future after retirement goes, Freitag recently accepted a position as the Director of Religious Education at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington where his love for the ministry and the military can continue to be of service to others.