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Sep-03-2010 03:45printcomments

Army Chaplain Killed in Afghanistan: Some Go the Extra Mile

The last Army chaplain lost in combat was Phillip Nichols. He was also killed in October 1970 by a hidden explosive device planted by the enemy.

U.S. Army Chaplain Andrew Werner
U.S. Army Chaplain Andrew Werner

(KABUL / SALEM) - A U.S. Army chaplain was killed along with four other soldiers Monday, when the HUMVEE they were traveling in was struck by a roadside bomb. The Chaplain, Army Captain Dale Goetz of the 4th Infantry Division, a native of Hood River, Oregon, is the first Army clergyman to die in combat since the Vietnam War, 40 years ago.

I met a chaplain in Afghanistan, who like Capt. Goetz, believed his scope of duties in the war involved leaving the safe confines of his office, 'behind the wire' as they say, and going to the places where soldiers live a harder life than their counterparts on the larger bases.

I accompanied Capt. Andrew Werner, a Chaplain with the Oklahoma National Guard serving with the U.S. Army's 41st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), on a trip to several forward combat bases in the Pesh Valley for four days in December 2006. My report was filed in January 2007, airing on Salem-News.com and Oregon's KPTV FOX 12.

At the time I wrote, "IED's, ambushes and flags at half-mast are the constant reminders of mortality to the combat soldier."

Obviously that has not changed for regular combat forces, but the loss of a religious soldier is unique.


The last Army chaplain lost in combat was Phillip Nichols. He was also killed by a hidden explosive device planted by the enemy in October of 1970.

An Army chaplain who was severely injured in Iraq in 2006, Tim Vacok, died in a nursing home from a fall in 2009. He was in the care facility three years after being evacuated from the battlefield, due to his war injuries.

Obviously his death was a delayed result of war, and while he did not die in combat, it is clear that it still led to his death.

Army Capt. Dale Goetz of the 4th Infantry Division was among five U.S. soldiers killed when their armored vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan on Monday.

MSNBC reports that Chaplain Goetz was in a convoy traveling from one forward operating base to the next, where he would counsel soldiers, when they were struck.

This is exactly what Werner was doing when I accompanied him to bustling cities like Jalalabad, and remote outposts in the Pesh Valley like Camp Joyce, Firebase California, Firebase Lumberyard, and others.

From the 2007 report: 'A Man of God and War'

For a Chaplain like Captain Andrew Werner of the Oklahoma National Guard, the job of being a combat soldier and a man of God is one of many challenges.

"Roger. I think we have to as the chaplains, 'cause the army is full of tough soldiers who like to do things and push themselves and we have to push ourselves also to be there with them, and not just be sitting in an office somewhere."

In a country where much strife is delivered by the hands of religious fanatics, there is naturally a good side to the convictions Islamic followers.

A hearty Muslim is a person of immense faith.

Chaplain Werner continues, "It is not a religious war, but yeah they also lean on Allah for their strength and for doing what they need to do but I think we also need to do that ourselves because I think that is the most important thing we have in life."

So Werner goes on talking to those who take the time to listen, about having faith in a higher power. Sometimes the chapel is the dayroom at a remote combat base, with a small number in attendance.

"Like I try to tell my soldiers, and like I hold to myself, that God is with us wherever we need to go, and our life is ultimately in his hands, and that we don't have to be afraid, you know do our safety checks and do what we have to do to be safe but ultimately we can't control what's coming our way, and have trust and faith in him and he'll give us the strength to deal with it and go through what we need to do."

And he agrees that Americans spending time in the Afghanistan combat theatre may have a few lessons they could take home from their brothers on the other side of the world.

"I think the God wills is their saying in Dari, sometimes it is a little fatalistic but they realize God is in control. A lot of times we just think that we need to do this, we need to do that and we're in control, but I think they, in their culture and in their speech, it reflects that their understand of God is in some ways, gripping their culture more than it is ours."

Chaplain Werner says he will continue to reach troops in far flung places like mountaintops and remote forward operating bases, where people well may need him the most.

My thought on these men, is that they are pushing themselves to reach those who are in the worst predicaments, in places that are deadly, frightening on a daily basis, where nerves are worn down every single day. Human beings are not meant to be at war, and those who find themselves outside the wire and exposed to enemy fire, sincerely appreciate a person like Dale Goetz, or Andrew Werner.


Tim King: Salem-News.com Editor and Writer

Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines.

Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Tim has several years of experience in network affiliate news TV stations, having worked as a reporter and photographer at NBC, ABC and FOX stations in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. As News Editor, Tim among other things, is responsible for publishing the original content of 65 Salem-News.com writers. He reminds viewers that emails are easily missed and urges those trying to reach him, to please send a second email if the first goes unanswered. You can send Tim an email at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com




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Vic September 7, 2010 6:50 am (Pacific time)

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen. " Mark Twain "The War Prayer"


Anonymous September 5, 2010 8:16 am (Pacific time)

A Military Chaplain is still a soldier. He does his duty as a soldier and a chaplain. I personally met some of the finest chaplains in the Military and I believe they are needed very much for the troops. I pray for all the chaplains and their families, because they also can make the ultimate sacrifice. God bless the chaplains and give them the tools to do their jobs.


Anonymous September 3, 2010 10:13 am (Pacific time)

well, the military personnel leaving Iraq will be going to Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. etc. so maybe the priests will have more protection. With 50,000 troops still in Iraq, and tens of thousands of contractors/mercenaries still in Iraq, etc...by the way, did you know Iraq is about the size of Idaho? Can you imagine 50,000 troops, and tens of thousands of mercenaries in Idaho? With an embassy the size of the vatican, and 40-50 bases? Well, imagine it. If we are not in WW3 right now, sure fooled me. How many countries does it take to make it a world war? And still wondering where all those democrats are that were protesting the bush wars with me. They have disappeared, I now stand alone..And no matter how many times I ask, I get NO response.


Vic September 3, 2010 7:41 am (Pacific time)

How one does the mental and moral gymnastics to mix war, invasion, subjugation, and murder of innocents with the polar opposite teachings of Jesus is beyond my comprehension. So, I can sign up to invade and kill and then the chaplain can reassure me that although everything I am doing is against all things good and aligned with the absolute worst evils of mankind, The God of Love is on my side??? There are few more ridiculous paradoxes in the world than "military chaplains". Here is a link that sums it up nicely http://www.nobeliefs.com/mementoes.htm Be a soldier or be a Christian, but there is NO way you can do both. None. I do not claim to be a Christian for that reason...I cannot be such a pacifist...so I am not a Christian, or a hypocrite either. I will be surprised if this gets posted...

Tim King: I don't see this as something we can't publish, and I understand the point you are making.  I guess it is just circumstantial, always try to remember that people are really only able to reflect their own cultural values.  I studied Child Psychology in college and recall a book called, "You Child's Self Esteem" by Dorothy Corkille Briggs.  She talked about the 'phenomenon of the mirrors'- in which a child sees only a limited number of people and influences during very important years.  It is unreasonable to expect that a child would be able to rise above this cultural influences.  Therefore we have a whole mixture of people in this nation and world, and many are just unable to know better, does that make sense?  You are blessed Vic because you have a sense of direction and as much as people may disagree, you are an extremely moral, guided person.  Thanks for not making this into a personal thing about the chaplain who died; I have no problem with the discussion regarding conceptual values, thanks!     

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