Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2009, 12:00 am

Chaplain a good-luck charm for troops

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Todd Welvaert,

Photo: Todd Welvaert
Major Ronald Beltz Jr. is chaplain for the Joint Munitions Command at the Rock Island Arsenal.
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Major Ronald Beltz Jr.,
Major Ronald Beltz Jr. knows what it's like when other people feel lucky to be around you.

In 1981, he kicked a field goal that propelled the Bettendorf High School Bulldogs over the Burlington Greyhounds in the last 30 seconds of the game to win the Iowa State Class 4-A Championship game, 3-0. He calls it his 15 minutes of fame.

In 2003, he felt it again when the soldiers in his Humveee tapped him to drive while out on patrol around Tikrit, Iraq. Chaplains are noncombatants and don't carry weapons, so it made a certain sense for him to drive, but ...

"Chaplains are also looked at as lucky charms, sort of a like a rabbit's foot," Major Beltz explained.

He traveled more than 15,000 miles in his year in Iraq while assigned as the battalion chaplain to the 4th Forward Support Battalion, 1st BDE, 4th Infantry.

"I provided religious services and individual counseling for soldiers," Major Beltz said. "I also liked going out on patrols or convoys when they would go out. I would offer a prayer before leaving. They wanted me behind the wheel because they wanted everyone carrying a weapon to be able to put rounds down range if they had to and the chaplain would drive like heck to get the out of there."

Major Beltz, 44, is back in Bettendorf after being selected as the chaplain for the Joint Munitions Command at the Rock Island Arsenal in August 2008.

His father, Ronald Beltz Sr., was a West Point graduate who also taught at the military academy. Major Beltz was born at the esteemed school and spent the first seven years as an Army brat, moving from post to post before his father ended in the Quad-Cities.

Major Beltz graduated from Augustana College and attended seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, graduating in 1993 with a Master's of Divinity degree, and was ordained in the Lutheran Church in 1993. He's been married to Rebecca Kammerer since 1991, and has two children, daughter, Katie, 12, and a son, Christopher, 6.

His military career began after a visit from his brother-in-law's fraternity brother who was a recruiter for the Indiana National Guard.

"I was the pastor of a church in Michigan City, Ind., when I met him, and he said the Army could really use chaplains," Major Beltz said. "I don't know how familiar you are with the Lutheran church, but a pastor can spend 20 years at one congregation. I talked it over with my wife, and we decided we weren't ready to settle down like that, so I gave him my card and they were calling me the next day. That was back in 2000, and I joined in June 2001."

"It was an interesting experience. I trained in the chaplain school house before 9/11 happened so it seemed like everything I trained for over the summer kind of changed," Major Beltz said. "All the old models went out the window. We thought we would be fighting the communists. Now it was a totally different battlefield element, a different enemy."

He's enjoyed most of his time in the service and says he can find positives in just about every assignment. He likes meeting soldiers from all over the world with different backgrounds and beliefs. He also likes ministering to the soldiers in that age group. He's also liked the traveling.

His first assignment was at Fort Hood, Texas, and he followed that group to Iraq. When he returned from Iraq, he and his family moved to Illesheim, Germany, where he was assigned as a chaplain for the 2-6 Combat Aviation Brigade, an Apache Longbow helicopter calvary group. He later went with them when they deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in 2005. The deployment brought some of his darkest days in the service.

"We had just finished (a ceremony marking the change of authority) replacing one unit with the other," Major Beltz said. "We did our official transfer of authority that morning, and that afternoon we had a helicopter crash that killed 16 people. They were from the incoming unit, my guys. I thought 'Please God, don't let this be a sign of what's to come.' We had ramp ceremonies for all of them, 16 caskets in 6 Humvees. It's one thing to read 16 soldiers died in a helicopter crash, but there is no way to describe what that's like until you actually see it. That was a bad day."

After his time in Afghanistan, he was sent to Fort Jackson, S.C., where many soldiers go through basic training. He enjoyed his time there, even though it meant long hours.

"A lot of times there would be a line of soldiers waiting for me when I got to the office at 6 a.m. And I wouldn't leave until 8 or 9 that night," Major Beltz said.

His work at the Arsenal deals mostly with civilians, including spouses and family members of soldiers but he still works with soldiers occasionally. He's also been doing a lot of suicide awareness and prevention training in the past nine months. He encourages the family members of soldiers to be alert to problems and changes in their behavior and to encourage soldiers to seek help if they need it.

The chaplain's mission is spelled out simply -- honor the dead, care for the wounded and nurture the living.

And bringing a little good luck to the people around you doesn't hurt.