Cove woman reflects on nursing career, military service
By LYNETTE SOWELL
When Edith Freyer first applied at age 42 to enter the Army Reserves, she almost wondered if it would take an act of Congress to get her accepted. Or, so she thought.
Freyer had worked as an RN for many years for St. Barnabas Corporation in New Jersey. She said she wound up becoming a nurse after her first husband had his first heart attack when they were in their early 20s and she was pregnant with her fourth child.
“I needed to do something to help support my family,” Freyer said. “So I went through vocational rehabilitation and told them, ‘I have four babies and a husband who just had a heart attack, what can I do?’” They did an interest inventory and pointed her toward becoming a nurse, after which she earned her R.N., with her inventory scoring high on helping professions. She said she’d never thought about becoming a nurse until then.
Then after her children were grown and a recruiter came calling in the 1980s, she thought she would take them up on the offer. At that time, Freyer was studying at Rutgers University for her pediatric nursing specialty and decided to apply for the Army Reserves.
“I got turned down the first time. I wondered if it was my age,” said Freyer.
After hearing a no from the Reserves, Freyer said she contacted her congressman and asked if age was possibly a factor, as her children were already grown and one was already active duty military himself.
“It turned out here was some paperwork that was put in wrong, and the recruiter fixed it, and the next go round, they called me and said, ‘We’re going to commission you as a 1st lieutenant.’”
She keeps a thick scrapbook with photos and news articles written about her travels that were shared back in the states via her hospital employer, which agreed to her absences for assignments. Whenever the unit called, Freyer would head out on a TDY assignment which took her to Europe and South America.
After joining the 8th Medical Brigade with the Army Reserves, Freyer said nursing specialties were changed and she gained an additional specialty in field trauma, which is how she wound up working in Honduras on a humanitarian mission in 1988.
“It was a project called Fuentes Caminos, Strong Roads. We were helping put roads in and we were there with the medical team for 10 weeks,” Freyer said.
“I look at the pictures and they become memories…we put our MREs in the sun to warm up,” Freyer said. “We were in tent city in the jungle, and we worked out of Palmerola Air Force Base. The week after we got there, the Nicaraguans kicked their heels up and started a war. Nobody bothered us, but we were put on alert.”
Freyer has witnessed history unfolding during her duty assignments, such as being in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.
An Orthodox Jew, Freyer is proud of the golden Star of David and caduceus pendant given to her by her oldest son.
“What’s really interesting, when I was in Europe, everyone in my unit told me, ‘Edyie, take your Star off.’ Because I always had my Star. My oldest boy had this made for me. I’ve had it for years and years. When I was in France, I took the Star off because people were staring at it. There are places in this world, where people are hated. People noticed in Germany, but they never made a comment.”
Freyer retired as a Major in 2006 after 22 years in the Army Reserves, but at the time of her retirement she was colonel-promotable and awaiting the promotion board, she said.
“They made me retire because I was old. I would have stayed on. They told me I reached the age I had to retire,” Freyer said. Until her retirement from the Reserves, she worked for Darnall as a nurse. As a reservist, she also taught classes as a staff educator.
Military service is part of Freyer’s family to include her blended family, with three of her sons serving in the military, her daughter “married to the Navy,” with her husband being retired Navy, and one stepson being retired Navy.
She met her second husband, Robert Poppell, years when she was still a reservist, through a mutual friend at a party she attended several years after her first husband passed away after his fourth heart attack.
“’You need to get out,’ a friend told me,” Freyer said. “Bob was active duty and she was a reservist with me in the 322nd in New Jersey. I wasn’t looking; I was self-sufficient.”
The two struck up a friendship and eventually married. They couple moved to Copperas Cove more than 10 years ago to be closer to family and have been married 21 years.
Freyer serves as the Jewish chaplain on Fort Hood, serving as a distinctive religious faith group leader (DRFGL), where she helps maintain the chapel.
She also continues her service to the community locally as a member of Altrusa International of Copperas Cove, the Citizens Fire & Public Safety Volunteer Association, and is a board member of the Keep Copperas Cove Beautiful Commission.