Cathedral’s Pentagon connection
Trio of CHS alums work in The Pentagon
NEW ULM — Not one, not two, but three graduates of Cathedral High School (CHS) in New Ulm are serving in the halls of The Pentagon.
All three reached the Pentagon through different branches. Captain Joseph Hoelz through the Navy, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Schneider the Army and Colonel Glen Christensen through the Air Force.
Each performs a different role at the headquarters of the U.S. Military. Hoelz works on international and operational law.
“I am blessed in that I have one of the best jobs that an international law lawyer could have,” Hoelz said.
He began working at The Pentagon in July last year as the Deputy Assistant Judge Advocate General for International and Operational Law.
His last job was Chief of Operational Law at U.S. Pacific Command from 2015 through 2017.
“Myself and my team were in charge of providing legal advice on international and operational law for the Navy,” Hoelz said. “There are a lot of attorneys who do that but if there is one office that is responsible for it, it is us.”
Before that Hoelz deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom as the Staff Judge Advocate for Carrier Strike Group 10 aboard USS Harry S. Truman.
Hoelz works on laws involving international agreements, rules of engagement and other aspects that he described as the rules of war.
Schneider is an army strategist with functional area 59 (FA 59). He has worked at The Pentagon since June 2017.
A functional area, simply put, is a collection of officers trained and educated to perform specialized tasks.
FA 59, the Army strategists, advise decisions made by military leaders and head groups that assess and develop policy on a national level and for specific theaters of war.
“I work a lot on our functional area’s structure,” Schneider said. “The functional area’s acquisition of new army strategists, distribution — so assigning them and training them — and development.”
After graduating from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. where he enrolled in the ROTC program, Schneider joined the Army Aviation Branch.
He served as an Apache helicopter pilot for a decade. During this time he commanded two helicopter companies and deployed to Iraq twice.
Schneider said he appreciates how directly he can affect the careers and lives of other FA 59 members.
“Functional Area 59’s population is a little over 400, about 420 officers, and I am really able to have a significant impact on their careers as I work some of these issues and try to further the branch,” Schneider said.
One thing that surprised him, along Hoelz and Christensen, was how common it was to run into old faces. Some of whom they have not seen in years.
“I have run into acquaintances, people I have not seen since my college ROTC days or first assignments,” Schneider said. “t is just completely random encounters either on the metro, around the Pentagon or actually in the building. I have run into a lot of people who I have not crossed paths with in, like I said, 15-plus years.”
Christensen is the Chief, Integrated Defense Division — he is responsible for writing regulations and rules for security forces in the Air Force.
“Obviously writing training regulations and doctrine is not the most exciting thing, but it is somewhat rewarding because i have learned a lot over the last 24 years and I have the opportunity to put some of that expertise in to try and help the folks who are younger and have not been in quite as long as I have,” Christensen said.
He described working at The Pentagon as fast paced and exciting because “you are at the center of it all.”
Before The Pentagon, Christensen specialized in the Air Force Security Forces, essentially their version of the military police.
“Our primary responsibility is security of Air Force systems, primarily nuclear security and then air base defense,” Christensen said. “We basically protect bases in combat zones so you can launch aircraft from them.”
Christensen deployed four times in Operation Iraqi Freedom. His last overseas assignment was in Afghanistan before being reassigned to U.S. Transportation Command in Illinois.
Working at The Pentagon is fulfilling for Christensen because of the impact he can have on the troops on the front line.
“You really have the opportunity to make a difference,” Christensen said. “Whether it is getting equipment that troops in the field need, (…) or the training they need so that they are just that much more prepared to do their jobs.”
Despite the varied paths each man took to The Pentagon, there was one sentiment they all seemed to have in common.
“You are not working for a paycheck, you are working for a higher purpose which has been the draw, for me, to the military all along,” Hoelz said.