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U.S. Army chaplain
Awarded the Bronze Star with “V” device for valor for leading several of the rescue attempts in Somalia
Served for 10 years in the 75th Ranger Regiment in positions from Ranger Reconnaissance Specialist to Platoon Sergeant
Winner of the Army’s Best Ranger competition (considered the Army’s Olympics), 1996
B.S. from Troy State University, AL
M Div. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, KY
Married to Dawn for 15 years with five children
CBN.com It was only supposed to take an hour.
Late afternoon of October 3, 1993, attack helicopters dropped about 120 elite American soldiers into a busy neighborhood in one of the most dangerous sections of Mogadishu, Somalia. Their mission: abduct several top lieutenants of the Somalian warlord. Struecker was assigned as a lead Humvee for the mission. Everything was going according to plan until the news came over the radio that one of the Army’s Blackhawk attack helicopters had been shot down. One of the rangers had missed the rope and fallen 70 feet, face first from a Black Hawk helicopter. Struecker’s mission then became the recovery of the critically injured soldier. This was no easy task when you consider Mogadishu was a city of about 1.5 million people, mostly armed and opposed to the U.S. military presence there.
As Struecker and his men drove through the hail of gunfire, one of his machine gunners wound up in the direct line of fire of an armed Somali. Sgt. Dominick Pilla became the first American casualty in Somalia. By the time Jeff and his men made it back to the airfield, they received news that another Black Hawk had been shot down. Jeff and his men were instructed to then return to the city to recover more bodies and rescue whoever might still be alive.
Despite two more trips into Mogadishu that day and into the night, at times under fire by rocket propelled grenades, Struecker did not lose any more of his men. In Somalia, it’s remembered as the Day of the Rangers which was dramatically portrayed in the movie Black Hawn Down. The battle that took place at Mogadishu was one of the biggest single firefights involving American soldiers since the Vietnam War. There were 16 Americans killed and 73 wounded during this battle.
Struecker says he had never confronted death before -- not that up close and personal. "U.S. Army Rangers don’t get scared. We’ve made a name for ourselves as the fearless ones. At least that is the mystique," Struecker says. “The difference between being a coward and a hero is not whether you’ve scared. It’s what you do while you’re scared. At the time, it wasn’t a matter of thinking, ‘I might die’ but rather, ‘I’m going to die tonight.’"
"Not just me,” he adds, “I thought there’s no way any of us are going to survive this.” That night he surrendered the fact that he might die to God. Because of that he says he had no real concern about his life anymore. He was comforted that even if he died, he would immediately be ushered into eternity because of his Savior.
He says the reason he was able to go back into the city repeatedly was because of his faith and the peace that it gave him. “I have no way to answer why I survived Somalia except God’s providence. I just pray that God will be made the hero of Mogadishu and not me.”
A CHILD’S FEAR
Jeff says that day in Somalia was not the first time he had been genuinely frightened about dying. As a kid growing up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, he was strangely drawn to the mystery of death. It was an obsession he would struggle with for many years. He would lie awake in bed at night wondering: When am I going to die? How is it going to happen?
He says there was nothing in his home situation that triggered this fear. He was the third of four children who lived in a town of 25,000 people in the middle of the Corn Belt. His parents divorced when he was four or five years old. He and his siblings had to decide who they would live with, and he chose his mother. She worked several jobs and was not around much for Jeff to talk with about his fears. So he sought comfort from his older sister. By the time he finished high school, he had lived in five different states and some 20 different houses. He attended four different high schools – three of them in the first two years.
When he was 13 years old, his family moved to Gallatin, Tennessee. He started walking by himself to a
nearby church. A young couple who lived in the apartment next to the family also attended that church. One night they stopped by to see Jeff and shared with him about how to receive Christ into his life. Two weeks later alone in his bed he made the sincere decision to accept the Lord as his personal Savior. It was that night that the dreams about dying and death vanished. He finally experienced true peace on the inside and slept peacefully.
A CALL TO MINISTRY
What Stuecker saw in Somalia changed his life forever.
After the battle, Struecker returned to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was confronted by many of his fellow soldiers who were agonizing over their fallen comrades, searching for answers. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, God was preparing him for full time ministry.
Over the next seven years Streucker completed college and in 2000 graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. On April 16, 2000, he mustered out of the United States Army. He rejoined the Army the following morning in the chaplain candidate program. He reported to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in January 2001 for 13 weeks of chaplaincy training.
Jeff served for two and a half years with the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He has also served in hotspots like Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In fact, since the War on Terror began following 9/11, Jeff has been to the Middle East over six times.
Today he shares his faith with soldiers and their families. He conducts services for the troops, counseling them through the many problems and stresses of their lives that he knows so well from firsthand experience. As a result of his testimony, Struecker says he has seen dozens of his soldiers come to Christ.
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