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Maranatha Baptist Bible College/AP

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Afghanistan | Capt. Dale Goetz became the first Army chaplain combat casualty in almost 40 years by going where soldiers go

Issue: "Broken beyond repair?," Sept. 25, 2010

Not long after arriving in Afghanistan in early August for a yearlong deployment, U.S. Army chaplain Capt. Dale Goetz sent out an email of prayer requests.

He asked friends to pray for three things over the next year: the salvation of 300 soldiers in his unit, that 10 soldiers would answer the call to enter into the ministry, and that the nation's enemies, including members of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, would accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

On Aug. 30, Stuart Schwenke, a friend from seminary, replied to his email and promised to pray every Sunday. But that same day in Afghanistan a convoy that included Goetz came under attack. Schwenke learned the next day that his friend had died.

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Goetz, a member of the 4th Infantry Division based in Fort Carson, Colo., is the first Army chaplain to be killed in action since the Vietnam War.

Four other soldiers died with Goetz after an improvised explosive device, or IED, hit their vehicle during a convoy in the Arghandab River Valley west of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

Schwenke, now the pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Oelwein, Iowa, described Goetz as a quiet man who was "powerful in the way he lived his life."

"He was going to make sure that a difficult situation like being deployed would be used for God's glory," said Schwenke, who has known Goetz since 1994.

Goetz, 43, graduated from Maranatha Baptist College in Watertown, Wis. He leaves behind a wife, Christina, and three sons, ages 10, 8, and 1. Goetz pastored a church in White, S.D., from 2000 to 2003. But having served a stint in the Air Force, he felt God's calling to become a military chaplain.

"Dale saw the military as a great mission field with a huge need for Christ-centered, Bible-honoring ministers," said Schwenke. "He wanted to have influence, side by side, with these soldiers."

During an earlier deployment to Iraq from 2004 to 2005, Goetz, according to Schwenke, consoled soldiers coping with marriage strains, financial difficulties, and thoughts of suicide.

"Real change comes when people are willing to make their own personal sacrifices to reach men," Schwenke said. "Goetz had his rough-and-tumble soldiers just like Jesus had his rough-and-tumble fishermen."

Goetz liked being able to minister to the soldiers where they worked, even if that meant taking risks with them on missions. "He went into conflicts without a weapon except his faith," Schwenke said.

But Goetz also took seriously his role as husband and father. His family moved to Colorado before his latest deployment, and he worked to help his wife and children settle in before he left, giving their home fresh paint and new carpet.

The family also settled into High Country Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, where the small congregation of about 60 formally voted the family into membership the Sunday before Goetz died: "He loved his family intensely," said Jason Parker, the pastor. "One of the comments he made to me was how much he wanted his boys to have a passion for Jesus Christ." Now the men in that church hope to instill that faith in Goetz's sons.

For a Colorado publication in 2008, Goetz described in a column how he spent the night of Sept. 10, 2001-discussing the Christian faith with a Muslim.

"Have you ever had something that you were so devoted to that you would be willing to die for it?" Goetz wrote. "Freedom is that precious to many of us. Our love for freedom is worth dying for."

Goetz's death has reminded his friend Schwenke, "Christ doesn't need us to finish the job, but He often does use us to get that job started.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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