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122nd Fighter Wing chaplain awarded Purple Heart

On May 16, 2011, Capt. Michael N. Frese of Fort Wayne had just finished setting up a teleconference for a routine staff meeting on an Army base in Afghanistan when the tent in which he was sitting was hit with a huge explosion.

“It knocked me out of my chair and put me on the ground and shredded the tent,” Frese said Saturday afternoon. “When I came to, I had ringing in my ears, spots in front of my eyes, and everything was in slow motion for a while.”

Frese had come under enemy fire from an 82-mm recoilless rifle, or RPG. It was fired, he estimates, from two to three miles off base.

“For those not in the military,” he joked during an otherwise solemn ceremony during which he was awarded a Purple Heart, “it was a rocket, and it blows up really loud.”

One of the military’s highest honors, the Purple Heart is awarded only to those wounded in combat. That made the presentation on the base of the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard in Fort Wayne a rarity, said Indiana Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. John P. McGoff, who pinned the medal onto Frese’s left lapel.

That Frese was serving as an Army chaplain at the time he was wounded made the presentation even rarer, added Col. David L. Augustine, base commander.

“Too often we forget these noncombatants…who are out there putting their lives on the line,” Augustine said.

Unlike most combat-wounded solders, Frese “didn’t take a weapon out on the battlefield. He took a Bible,” Augustine said.

The Rev. Mark Schreiber, a retired Navy chaplain and director of ministry to the armed forces for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, said only two military chaplains were killed during the last decade or so of the Iraqi-Afghanistan conflicts.

Perhaps only a half-dozen have been wounded in that time, he added. He said it’s uncertain how many have received the Purple Heart.

But Schreiber, who recommended Frese, a graduate of Fort Wayne’s Concordia Theological Seminary as a military chaplain, said the father of three is the only ordained member of that denomination to receive the honor for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now assistant pastor at Fort Wayne’s Redeemer Lutheran Church, Frese, 39, said he was humbled and honored by the award. After moving to Fort Wayne, he joined the 122nd as a chaplain in 2013.

For more on this story, read Sunday's print edition of The Journal Gazette or visit this web site after 3 a.m.