At age 39, he's in the Army National Guard now

Pvt. Charles Friedrich was promoted to E-2 at weekend drill in May. Presenting the promotion were Staff Sgts. Daniel Schaab and Steven Bell.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo -- It's a good thing Charles Friedrich signed up when he did.

If he was trying to get into the Army National Guard today, he wouldn't be allowed. At 39, Friedrich would be too old under new, stricter guidelines, intended to shrink swollen Guard rosters.

As it is, the Cape Girardeau resident has slipped in under the wire of the new policy, which reduces the maximum enlistment age from 42 to 35. He enlisted in February, just before the policy change.

"He literally just barely made it," said recruiter Staff Sgt. Steven Bell. "He got in on one day and the policy changed the next. If he'd waited one more day, he wouldn't have been able to get in."

It turns out that getting in might still have been the easy part. Friedrich will leave on July 14 for basic training at Fort Knox, Ky., and will undoubtedly be one of the oldest new Soldiers in his platoon.

"I've been getting a lot of people asking me that question: Why am I doing it at my age?" Friedrich said. "They say, 'Are you crazy?'"

Friedrich has traveled a long road to get him to a decision that is generally made by young adults. He toyed with the idea of joining the military when he was a senior in high school at Delta R-5, where he grew up in Whitewater. He comes from a long military family where his grandfather and three uncles are prior service.

"I had three uncles who were in World War II," he said. "One fought at the Battle of the Bulge and another died in the South Pacific. There was always a military presence at Grandpa's house and I wanted to be a part of that."

But he didn't join. Reflecting back, Friedrich believes he was too immature and his aversion to authority was too strong.

"I didn't want somebody telling me what to do," he said. "I just didn't like the thought of that. And, honestly, at 18, I don't think I would have made a very good Soldier."

So, instead, he bought his own tractor-trailer and started a trucking company, which allowed him to travel and see much of the country. He made a good living at it, but after he did it for about 20 years, he was looking for a change.

"The trucking company was a goal, but I'd accomplished that goal and I thought it was time to do something else," he said.

He started looking around for a new career and he came back to the idea of the military. He checked with his wife Christina, with whom he has three children.

"She was supportive," he said. "She was pregnant when I was thinking about it and she said, 'If you're going to do it, do it now, because I'm going to need a lot of help later when the kids get older.' So she understands."

During the 2008 Southeast Missouri District Fair, he went to Arena Park where he knew National Guard recruiters set up tents to talk to potential recruits.

"I'm not really a traditional recruit," he remembers telling Sgt. Bell.

But Friedrich said that they saw he was serious. So he signed up -- just in time, it turns out -- and has been training before basic with the Recruit Sustainment Program's Company E in Cape Girardeau. Through the program, Friedrich is learning basic Army skills and values and becoming more familiar with his role as a Citizen-Soldier in the Missouri Army National Guard.

And Bell, who recruited him, said Friedrich is already standing out.

"He's already beating out all the 17, 18 and 19 year olds," Bell said. "He's running two miles in less time than the 17 year olds. I definitely think he'll end up in a leadership position."

The Army National Guard nationwide now has 366,880 soldiers, significantly more than the 358,200 authorized by Congress.

"We're over-strength," Bell said. "There's really no need to have that old policy in place anymore. We can be more selective with who we let in and that's good for the Guard."

The reason he chose the Guard over other military branches is because he knows the Guard assists in state emergency duties and helps other states.

"The Guard helps make life easier for regular people when they really need it," he said. "That kind of stuff really flips my switches."

Friedrich recognizes that basic training will be a challenge, but that's why he joined.

"I understand authority better," he said. "When I was 18, I probably could have blown right through the physical part of it, but it'll be a challenge now and I like that. I've got something to prove. I just want to excel and whatever I do. If I'm an E-1, I want to be the best E-1 I can. I'm looking forward to it."

Friedrich also believes he can be something of a mentor to younger Soldiers as well as excel at being a Soldier himself.

"I'm going to relish doing at 39 what other people do at 18," he said. "I don't like having regrets. If I didn't do it, I would regret that."

For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please call 1-800-GoGuard or visit


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