For A Journalist, The Cost Of War Seen Through A Soldier’s Life Cut Short


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Chris Goeke performs on the guitar as he prepared to graduate from West Point in 2008. He died two years later in fighting against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

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Dr. Pam Shultz, the mother of Army Lt. Chris Goeke, visits his gravesite at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minn.

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Chris Goeke (in his military uniform) and his family. From left, his mother Pam Shultz, siblings Matthew Goeke, Jessica Goeke, Jeni Goeke Huff, and father Randy Goeke.

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Chris Goeke and his wife Kelsey Haggerty on their wedding day. They were married shortly after he graduated from West Point and before he was deployed to Afghanistan.

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Chris Goeke and his wife Kelsey Haggerty on their wedding day. They were married shortly after he graduated from West Point and before he was deployed to Afghanistan.

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«There was a point where I would just look at him and like, Chris, I don’t know the answer to that,» she said. «I taught you everything I know.»

At West Point, Goeke met Kelsey Haggerty, a student at another college who had come to a cadet social event with friends.

They were soon inseparable.

«You know, he was probably the last person to ever write love letters back and forth,» Kniery said.

And Goeke began asking deep relationship questions. Maybe too deep.

«He would bring his letters to the mess hall from her, and he would super-analyze them and take notes and be like, ‘What do you think she means here?'» Kniery said, laughing. «And I’m like, ‘Dude, she’s saying she likes you. I don’t know, I just don’t think there’s any secret code there.'»

He graduated 6th in his class and went through the Army’s elite Ranger school and officer training.

He and Kelsey were married a few months after graduation and moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, not long before his deployment.

She didn’t want to be interviewed for this story.

The value of a life

A few months into the deployment, Goeke emailed Kniery, who was in training to be a doctor. Goeke warned one day Kniery would be responsible for lives, too.

«And that is no joke,» he wrote in the email. «My battalion has been taking a lot of casualties in these first six months. I think we’re at 20 right now. And my CO (commanding officer) was killed a couple of weeks ago. The more doctors the better. I miss you, my friend.»

Chris Goeke died July 13, 2010 in an attack on an Afghan police base he was visiting in the southern city of Kandahar.

A bomb hidden in a handcart blew a hole in a wall. Then insurgents wearing suicide vests poured in. Most of the Afghan and American troops inside the base thought it was a mortar or rocket attack and massed inside reinforced bunkers, making them easy targets. Dozens were wounded and killed.

Only Goeke and a small handful of others realized what had happened. They charged straight at the breach, firing, even though they didn’t have cover.

His commander then, Scott Haran, now a major who now teaches at West Point, was at his side when an insurgent’s vest detonated.

Both went down, Goeke didn’t get back up.

«You know, it’s super brave and, unfortunately, he died in the attack,» Haran said. «But if you think about it, he saved a ton of people’s lives with his act.»

Friends say Goeke could have become almost anything. A social worker, senator, writer, minister, college professor. Or if he stayed in the Army, a general.

And that he’d have surely made a great dad.

«It wasn’t just that he was smarter, stronger than others, but he did the work,» said another West Point classmate, John Bockstanz. «And that’s something that continues to drive me. I saw him not just being really smart, and intellectual, but he just read like crazy, he’s spent so much time investing in learning, invested so much time in listening. And he spent so much time caring for his wife. And that’s why he was a good husband. You know, it’s not just the fact that he was some superhero, but he was very human. And someone who just had the right priorities and was focused.»

But he’s gone. As are those other American troops. And more than 1,100 from NATO allies, thousands of contractors, aid workers and journalists. And well over 100,000 Afghan troops and civilians.

This leaves Rick Ferrera wondering how to properly consider his childhood friend’s death.

«You know, every one of these people that lose their lives in a war, any person who loses their life, in any way, is a person just like all the rest of them,» Ferrera said. «I’ve often really struggled to describe Chris without feeling like I’m taking something away or criticizing other people who have passed. I don’t have an answer for it. But I think it’s something I struggle with when remembering him.»

Another big question Chris Goeke made his friends think about.

  • Afghanistan War
  • U.S. Army
  • soldiers

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