FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Many permanent party service members and initial entry trainees here attend religious services each week, but for followers of less common religions in the area — Islam, for example — finding someone who will lead those services can be challenging sometimes.
That’s where Sgt. 1st Class Mohammed Kamel comes in. A drill sergeant with Company C, 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment, Kamel arrived here about five months ago ready to help provide Islamic spiritual services and education.
Kamel is what the Army calls a Distinctive Religious Group Leader, or DRGL. A DRGL is a certified individual, who volunteers to assist commanders and chaplains in accommodating service members and their families with distinct religious needs that cannot be met by available military chaplains.
Kamel said he has been a DRGL at three previous assignments as well.
“In all these places, that was the issue — no services for Muslims,” he said.
According to 1-48 Inf. Bn. Chaplain (Capt.) Steve Anoai, Kamel’s unit chaplain, DRGLs provide a very precise service for a prescribed period of time to further the command master religious plan in the free exercise of religion.
“It’s important,” he said. “The Army promotes a pluralistic environment and chaplains ensure religious freedom is honored and practiced.”
Anoai said Kamel approached him about taking on a DRGL role here when he first arrived at the unit in March.
“He reached out to me and we had a conversation about it,” Anoai said. “I asked him to tell me a little about what he was wanting to do. He explained it, and I reached out to the Garrison Chaplain.”
After completing an interview vetting process, Kamel said everyone was glad he wanted to volunteer to help.
“I was happy because I was dying to do this — really looking forward to it — and, fortunately, they really needed to find someone to do this,” he said.
Kamel was raised in a Muslim family in Kumasi, Ghana. An email convinced him to join the Army 12 years ago, shortly after he arrived in the U.S. looking for work.
“Back in Africa, I was a pharmacy technician,” he said. “When I came to the U.S. and tried to look for pharmacy jobs, I was told, ‘If you want to do this, you have to get certifications.’ I did this for a while, took classes, worked two jobs, but then I got an email from a recruiter. He said, ‘We’ll take care of your housing, your health care, you can go to school and continue your education,’ and I said, ‘This is for me.’”
After attending training here, Kamel became a chemical operations specialist. He said that although he’s here as a drill sergeant this time, he considers Fort Leonard Wood home.
“Every year, I come here for a class or some kind of training,” he said. “I love it here.”
Kamel said he also loves being a drill sergeant.
“It’s rewarding,” he said. “You get to mold humans who want to better themselves. You are part of the success story of that individual.”
With sometimes more than 50 trainees attending his services, Kamel said he tries to mix education in with the prayers he leads.
“We say prayers, but we also learn about Islam,” he said. “We answer questions about how to pray, how to perform ablutions — we learn more about Arabic to read the Quran.”
Kamel offers services on Fridays (the Islamic day of rest) and Sundays (for trainees unable to attend on Fridays). He said many service members attend just to learn more about Islam.
“Last week, we had seven non-Muslims,” he said. “They are curious and I always say everyone is welcome.”
Kamel’s Islamic services are from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Fridays and 8 to 10 a.m. Sundays at the Main Post Chapel. For more information on religious services available here, or to find out more about becoming a DRGL, call 573.596.2127.