FORT HOOD, Texas Chaplain Col. Matthew M. Goff opened a Fort Hood memorial service April 9 honoring soldiers slain and wounded in a shooting spree a week earlier by asking God "to walk with us to the valley of our grief."
Goff's invocation underscored the essential role chaplains play in the life of every member of the armed services.
He prayed before a crowd of soldiers in camouflage fatigue as well as civilians gathered under a cloudless blue sky while an American flag fluttered at half-staff. As a chaplain, Goff welcomed them to the service, saying, "Almighty God, as we enter this sacred moment of memorial, we acknowledge You, the God of all comfort and mercy."
Goff asked God to "lift our broken hearts." He named the three soldiers cut down in the rampage then thanked God for "their selfless service to the nation and for the legacy they leave behind."
He ended the invocation with "in Your holy name we pray, amen," then took a seat in the front row with other dignitaries, including President Obama and the first lady.
The service memorialized the lives lost and acknowledged families who were grieving deaths or caring for loved ones wounded during the April 2 tragedy at the sprawling Army post.
In front of the podium were three sets of helmets, rifles and dog tags forming the traditional battlefield crosses to show honor and respect for a fallen comrade, although these soldiers did not die in war. Sgt.1st Class Daniel Ferguson, Sgt. Timothy Owens and Sgt. Carlos Lazaney-Rodriguez made the ultimate sacrifice at the hands of a fellow soldier in what should have been a peaceful setting.
Fort Hood Commander Lt. General Mark Milley described the slain soldiers as answering their nation's call in a time of war and noted their service careers totaled more than 50 years. He and others reported that of 16 other soldiers wounded in the gunfire, four remain hospitalized in stable condition while the others have reported back for duty.
President Obama spoke of the bravery of soldiers involved, singling out two who gave their lives to save others in the line of fire. Referring to Ferguson and Owens, Obama said, "As we've heard, when the gunman tried to push his way into that room, Danny held the door shut, saving the lives of others while sacrificing his own. Timothy, the counselor, then gave his life by walking toward the gunman, trying to calm him down."
At the service's emotional conclusion, riflemen fired three volleys representing those killed. A solemn trumpeter played "Taps."
Reflecting on the memorial service and role of chaplains in the military, Keith Travis, North American Mission Board's team leader for chaplaincy, said, "Chaplains are some of our best evangelists, teachers and counselors." Travis, a retired Army chaplain, achieved the rank of colonel.
Doug Carver, NAMB's executive director for chaplaincy, noted that "this tragic event highlights the critically important ministry of chaplains, often the first people military leadership turns to in situations like this."
Carver, a retired two-star general who served as U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, oversees more than 1,400 military chaplains and 2,400 chaplains serving law enforcement, correctional facilities, disaster relief, hospitals, corporations and other settings.