A Chaplain and an Atheist Go to War

The 460 Army, Navy and Air Force chaplains deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are prohibited from carrying weapons, counting on their assistants and the troops around them for protection. It can be a perilous calling. On Monday, Chaplain Dale Goetz, 43, of White, S.D., and four other soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb near Kandahar. Capt. Goetz is the first Army chaplain killed in action since the Vietnam War.

Army chaplains represent 130 religions and denominations, including Catholicism, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism. The military says it’s common for assistants to be of different faiths from the chaplains they support, or of no faith at all.

“They don’t have to be religious,” says retired Navy Capt. Randy Cash, who served 30 years in the Chaplain Corps and now is its historian. “They have to be able to shoot straight.”

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This post was last updated: Monday, September 6, 2010 at 10:18 AM, Central European Time (CET)