Capt. James B. Drake, a chaplain in the 841st Engineer Battalion Headquarters, graduated from the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS), one of the most difficult courses in the military, on Jan. 27 at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, despite a troubling earlier prognosis.
Ten years ago, a doctor diagnosed Drake “with the first signs of a potentially debilitating autoimmune disease known as Multiple Sclerosis (MS).” Despite this, he completed the rigorous SFAS training at 42 years old while beating all other attendees in the fitness test, maxing his score!
“(The MS diagnosis) was a wake-up call to prioritize my health,” said Drake. “Since then, I feel like God has given me a second chance and I’m trying to make the most of it. The doctors (neurologists) told me at my last checkup that I was a walking miracle and there are no signs of disease! By God’s grace, I hope to keep it that way.”
Lt. Col. Lori Shields, 841st Engineer Battalion, called Drake a “special human being” who has “great potential to make this Army a better organization through his leadership and deserves every opportunity to do so.”
“I am a better person after every single conversation or engagement I have with Chaplain Drake,” said Shields. “The 841st has been blessed to have Chaplain Drake and I am lucky to have served alongside him.”
Along with his unit’s command and Soldiers, Drake’s wife, Heidi, and their four kids (Isaiah, Lily, Luke, and Judah) along with a recently fostered baby they named Peace supported him throughout his difficult diagnosis and follow-on physical regimen. This enduring routine coupled with his faith put him into the best shape of his life, leading to his success.
Shields said, “The 926th Engineer Brigade (commanders), both Col. (Kenneth) Shubert and Col. (Michael) Trofinoff, have been extremely supportive every step of the way, allowing (Chaplain) Drake to make it to the SFAS stage and, ultimately, being selected. There was no question in my mind that (Chaplain) Drake wouldn't pass or get selected. His physical and mental toughness is beyond measure.”
His motivations? He attested “Lord Jesus Christ,” his family, and the U.S. “so that freedom may prevail.” Although, “Grit,” which he labeled as his best attribute, played a factor as well.
“I am passionately committed to long-term goals that require overcoming obstacles when I believe that is what God is calling me to,” said Drake. “I believe God can use trials in your life to strengthen and refine you.”
Shields said that she is “extremely supportive” of his goals and proud to be his commander as he significantly improved the “overall mental, emotional, and spiritual fitness (or) readiness” of the 841st Engineer Battalion over the past 18 months.
“Soldiers call him ‘Chaplain America’ – they love him, they trust him, and they confide in him,” said Shields. “Even if not in a Chaplain official capacity, he will improve the mental, emotional, and spiritual readiness of those he's serving alongside with.”
Drake joined that Army Reserve in January 2021, carrying on a family tradition of Armed Forces service.