ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - Growing up in a family that emphasized commitments to faith and the military, it seemed a natural fit for Sgt. Maj. Wyman Loveless to embark on a career as an Army's religious affairs Soldier.And indeed, he quickly found that he and the military were a good match."I had discipline and I had a physical regimen so the Army reinforced my, morals, ethics, and values," he said. "The seven Army values is something I was able to easily adapt to."Loveless and the Army have been such a good pairing that the relationship has lasted 26 years and has included nine deployments. Additionally, Loveless is a member of the prestigious Sgt. Audie Murphy Club and recipient of the Maj. Gen. Aubrey "Red" Newman Award, which U.S. Forces Command bestows on Soldiers who display exceptional leadership. His current role is serving as the Chief of Religious Affairs Noncommissioned Officer for First Army.Loveless was raised in the military community of Lawton, Okla., near Fort Sill, where he would see off-duty Soldiers engaged in such pursuits as basketball, weight lifting, and shopping at the PX. As such, he figured that military members had ample time for such engagements.So it came as something of a jolt when Loveless joined the Army and began his career as a chaplain's assistant with an infantry unit."I learned that different units have different missions. I spent a lot of time in the field, not that much time in the gym," he said. "My expectations were a bit skewed because as a civilian I only saw the after-duty hours of some Soldiers. I assumed you had plenty of time."But his reality failed to dampen his enthusiasm for the Army and he has become a career Soldier, continuing a trend of military service for his family that goes back to the Civil War. Both of his grandfathers were career Soldiers, a grandmother was an initial member of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, and a great-great grandfather served in the Union Army.His mentoring goes beyond his job and Loveless previously coached youth sports, including a high school state champion track team in Columbia, S.C. While his current duties and family commitments leave too little time for such substantial undertakings, he still finds satisfaction in providing mentorship and guidance."The thing I like the most about my job is being able to increase the spirituality of the Soldiers and family members. Spiritual fitness is an important component of the Army family," Loveless said. He noted that while religious affairs specialists need not practice a faith themselves, they must be cognizant of the spiritual needs of those in their unit."You have to understand your audience at all times," he said. "Some people's spirituality is a little deeper than others so you have to go a little deeper with them. That requires proper analysis and planning. We are required to understand a lot about religion and understand how religion plays an important part in people's overall development."That has been especially true during his frequent deployments, which include four tours in Afghanistan. Loveless described tending to the spiritual needs of Soldiers in or near combat as one of his more fulfilling experiences. He related the story of a deployed platoon sergeant whose mother was dying of cancer. The platoon sergeant kept this to himself because he didn't want to be sent home and leave his Soldiers."I mentioned to him that he was a magnificent MP, a phenomenal NCO, and a great combat leader, but asked if he had the supernatural power to prevent the death of either his mother or his Soldiers. When he responded 'no,' I asked, 'If your Soldier's mother was dying of cancer, wouldn't you as leader send them home?' As a result of the spiritual counseling, the platoon sergeant spent the remaining hours with his mother, memorialized her properly, then returned to Afghanistan, and finished the deployment with zero fatalities among his Soldiers."Such experiences are why, after more than a quarter century of service, Loveless remains motivated by shaping future leaders."My primary goal is to do the best I can at creating more sergeants major and to continue to educate, motivate, and lift up future sergeants major and to leave a legacy of good senior noncommissioned officers and good sergeants major for years to come," he said.One future leader he has an especially strong influence on is his son, currently enrolled at The Citadel, as the family's tradition of military service continues.Because of his long record of exemplary leadership, mentoring, and service, Loveless was selected by First Army Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Thomas James Jr., to give the keynote address at the Rock Island Arsenal Black History Month observance on Feb. 26.During his speech, Loveless spoke on the importance of learning from the past. He explained, "For us to understand where we're going, we have to understand where we came from so we don't replicate the same mistakes."And the Army emphasizes that lesson, he added. "The Army's equal opportunity program provides a baseline for how all individuals should be treated," Loveless said. "It enables a healthy workforce that ensures that each person is treated fairly. The Army is 100 percent committed to racial equality. I can recall conversations with both of my grandfathers that it hadn't always been that way."Related Links:First Army Facebook pageFirst Army website