Elizabethtown native K. Edward Brandt, 57, was promoted to senior Army National Guard chaplain and U.S. Army deputy chief of chaplains for the National Guard on Feb. 1 and was recognized in formal ceremonies Friday in Arlington, Virginia, and Wilmington, Delaware.
The eagles on his epaulets, symbolizing the rank of colonel, were replaced with single stars, signifying his new rank as brigadier general.
The son of Jean Brandt, Elizabethtown, and the late state Rep. Kenneth Brandt never envisioned spending the majority of his life in the National Guard, “never expected it to become a full-time vocation,” he said via telephone earlier this week.
But his chaplaincy allowed him “to connect with the military in a way I never would have had before. I met people I never would have met in my life. I’ve gone places I never would have gone. It was a way to live out my Christian calling in a different dimension.”
Brandt’s mother — who planned to attend Friday’s ceremony along with his wife, Jane, his siblings, children and grandchildren — called her son “an achiever. Ed is very much like his father. He loves to help people,” she said of the eldest of her five children.
Most traumatic incident
A 1977 graduate of Elizabethtown High School, Brandt joined the National Guard in 1989 while serving as pastor at Cedar Grove Presbyterian Church (USA) in East Earl Township. In 1997, he moved to Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in Wilmington.
His posting in Delaware led him to Iraq, where he was deployed in 2008-09 with the 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade, a National Guard unit from Delaware. He was charged with the pastoral care of 1,200 soldiers.
Brandt, who was stationed inside the compound, said that although he could hear shooting beyond the safety zone, he felt safe. But it was inside the complex of camps — at nearby Camp Liberty — that he experienced what he termed his most traumatic incident with the military.
On May 11, 2009, U.S. Army Sgt. John M. Russell shot and killed five fellow soldiers following an argument at a combat stress center. Brandt saw emergency personnel at Camp Liberty as he was jogging that day. When he returned to his office, he was informed of the shooting.
The Rev. Timothy Meier, a fellow chaplain and Jesuit priest, spoke about giving the soldiers last rites during his sermon the following Sunday.
“It was a very memorable sermon,” Brandt said.
Serving all faiths
Chaplains either perform or provide service for all personnel. His brigade included Muslim, Jewish and Christian soldiers, and the chapel at Camp Victory served all faiths.
“I thought, ‘What a marvelous use of space,’ ” he said. “Same place, different styles of worship and, in Ed Brandt’s mind, all children of God.”
The Army’s chief of chaplains, Maj. Gen. Paul K. Hurley, has admonished fellow chaplains to “Live out your call.”
That means on weekends, Brandt returns to Wilmington and attends Westminster Presbyterian Church, where he helps with a group of Vietnam and Gulf War I veterans.
“You talk about the changes people have, the common shared experiences and the struggles people have. And I am learning a lot from them.”
Brandt’s new post gives him dual responsibilities. He will serve as the primary liaison to the chief of chaplains office, presenting the issues, challenges and concerns faced by the Army National Guard in terms of chaplains.
As senior Army National Guard chaplain, he will serve Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy and work with the adjutant generals of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories of Guam, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to troubleshoot issues for the chaplain corps.
130 vacancies to fill
One of the issues Brandt faces is the need to bring the complement of chaplains to full capacity. There currently are 130 vacancies to be filled.
That said, the job is not for everyone. It can involve long hours counseling young men on issues ranging from how to keep marriages intact, manage financial issues, and deal with post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from battlefield experiences.
“The chaplains we bring on are folks who take care of themselves spiritually, take care of themselves physically and emotionally and ... sharpen their skills in a way that cares for soldiers and their families,” he explained.
“I tell people, if this is an 8-5 job for you, go look for another job. You need to take care of people.”
Given his late father’s occupation, Brandt confidently compared the job of pastor to that of politician.
“Wherever you’ve got people, you’ve got problems. You’re working with people and navigating land mines.”
Brandt’s promotion speaks to how successfully he has dealt with many of those land mines in the past 28 years.