COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - He transitioned from elite Ranger to Army Chaplain, to now pastor in Columbus.
Jeff Struecker, in telling his story of military and faith, said a defining moment on that journey happened in Mogadishu, a bloody battle portrayed in the movie “Black Hawk Down.”
His job now is orchestrating a church team during a pandemic. Almost three decades ago, Struecker orchestrated a team of soldiers in one of the U.S. Army’s most well-known battles. As a 3rd Ranger Regiment squad leader, he came into Somalia having fought in other wars.
“I’d been shot at, I’d seen guys in combat get killed, but nothing to the extent we experienced in Mogadishu,” Struecker said.
He described the movie, “Black Hawk Down” as very accurate, but not nearly as violent as the real thing that left 18 Americans dead.
“I was trying to do my best not to make some tactical mistakes that would cost anymore of my men their lives,” Struecker said. “For almost that entire 18 hours, I was absolutely convinced I was going to die. But I didn’t have the fear that they [many of his fellow soldiers] had because I had this certainty of heaven.”
Struecker said that firefight, where two black hawk helicopters were shot down, was pivotal. Right after that battle in 1993, he felt God pushing him toward the ministry.
“My faith played such a massive impact on the way I conducted myself on the battlefield that night, that my friends that survived that battle started asking me questions about my faith, which I think set me on a path to becoming an Army chaplain,” Struecker recalled.
After 13 years as an enlisted soldier, he spent the next 10 years as an Army chaplain. He said this is what God told him: “You want to kick in doors, you want to kill bad guys. I want you to go minister to soldiers at the soul level.”
Now, he ministers as the pastor of the new 2 Cities Church in Columbus, first meeting together last year at a Burger King lobby. Their first official Sunday service was in late January, but six weeks later, they had to shut down because of COVID-19, recording services at least through August.
“Actually, we’ve grown since coronavirus, going to online only,” he said.
And Struecker has grown a lot too since the Iowa native joined the Army at age 18. “I just, on a whim, went to talk to an Army recruiter while I was still in high school, asked him what is the toughest job in the Army, he steered me towards Fort Benning and the Ranger regiment.”
That’s where he went, going on to be a part of a two-man team that won the extremely elite Best Ranger Competition in 1996, after years of intense training that involved “every possible physical exercise that you can think of, all the technical events, all the shooting.”
Then, on numerous tours to Iraq and Afganistan, Struecker said he’s seen fellow soldiers do amazing things on the battlefield. “The greatest single aspect of serving in the military were the amazing men and women I had the chance to be in uniform with.” Struecker added.
He still gets opportunities across the nation to speak about the Black Hawk Down experience, saying “I’m still here and a lot of Rangers who were better warriors than I are not. I feel like this is one way I can keep their memory alive.”
You can hear the interview with Struecker by visiting https://www.wtvm.com/podcast/. He’s the guest on the latest episode of the “Run the Race” podcast.