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Army: Chaplain is 1st killed in action since '70

The first Army chaplain to be killed in action since Vietnam, died this week in Afghanistan, military officials said Thursday.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

A chaplain who died in Afghanistan this week was the first Army clergyman killed in action since Vietnam, military officials said Thursday. 

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. Goetz was in a convoy traveling from one forward operating base to another, where he counseled soldiers. Witnesses said the vehicle was Humvee.

Before Goetz, the last Army chaplain to die in action was Phillip Nichols, who was killed by a concealed enemy explosive in Vietnam in October of 1970, said Chaplain Carleton Birch, a spokesman for the Army chief of chaplains.

However, Army Chaplain Tim Vacok was gravely injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006 and died in 2009 from a fall at a Minnesota nursing home, where he was being cared for because of his war injuries.

The Air Force said none of its chaplains were killed later than 1970. A spokesman for the Navy Chaplain Corps, which also provides clergy to the Marines, didn't immediately return a phone call.

Goetz, 43, is survived by his wife and three sons, all under the age of 10, all from White, S.D. The family is currently residing at Fort Carson, Colo.

Geotz was the pastor at the First Baptist Church in White before joining the Army in 2000.

Goetz and his family recently joined High Country Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, where Fort Carson is located, the Argus-Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., reported.

Officials said Goetz had hitched a ride on a resupply convoy when he was killed.

The Army has more than 2,800 chaplains, including those in the Guard and Reserve. More than 400 are in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Birch said chaplains are considered noncombatants and don't carry weapons, but they are accompanied by a chaplain's assistant, a soldier who is armed.

A chaplain's assistant, Staff Sgt. Christopher Stout of Worthville, Ky., was killed in Afghanistan in July, Birch said.

Chaplains don't go on combat patrols but do go onto battlefields to conduct services and counsel soldiers, Birch said.

"Many of those places where they travel are very dangerous," he said.

NATO commanders have warned that casualties will mount as coalition and Afghan forces enter areas that have been under longtime Taliban control. The NATO force swelled this month to more than 140,000 — including 120,000 Americans — with the arrival of the last of the reinforcements that President Barack Obama ordered to Afghanistan in a bid to turn the tide of the nearly nine-year war.