Army Chaplain Dale Goetz, RIP

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Captain Dale Goetz became the first Army chaplain to die in combat since Vietnam when a roadside bomb killed him and four fellow soldiers in Afghanistan on Monday. His is a passing worth pondering. Chaplains represent a special category of troop, especially in the lengthy wars the U.S. has been waging in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many Army mental-health workers in recent years have told me that the counseling done, and solace provided by, chaplains are just as valuable to troops as the therapy and drugs offered by front-line psychiatrists and other mental-health professionals.

Capt. Dale Goetz

Goetz, 43, a Baptist and graduate of Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown, Wis., was a member of the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Carson, Colo. He hailed from White, S.D., where he had served as a pastor before joining the Army in 2000. He had been in Iraq in 2004 before his current assignment in Afghanistan. He is survived by his wife, Christina, and three sons, ages 10, 8 and 1. His funeral will be Wednesday at Fort Carson.

Goetz had written of the differences between his Christianity and the religious views of those the U.S. is now battling. He spent the evening of September 10, 2001, trying to convince a Muslim man (married to a Catholic woman) of the merits of Christianity.”It was the first time I had really encountered a Muslim man theologically and we had an open religious dialogue,” Goetz wrote in 2008 in the weekly Independent newspaper in Elizabeth, Colo. “I learned much from him about his belief system.” While he said he failed to get the husband to convert, Goetz added that their discussion “helped me to understand why those men flew those planes to their deaths” the following day. What he took away from that session is that Muslims believe “there is no greater act of sincere faith or virtuous act than dying a martyr’s death for their religion.”

He acknowledged that Muslim concerns over what they perceive as a degenerate Western culture can drive some Muslims toward terror. “As Americans we repudiate the practice of the terrorist,” he said. “Though I disagree with their practice, I do understand their complaints against western society.” Goetz wondered if Americans are devoted to something so much that they would willingly die for it. “Our love for freedom is worth dying for,” he concluded, “and many have gone before us to preserve this freedom.”