Finding 'perfect peace' amid chaos

  • Published
  • By Catherine McNally
  • Hilltop Times staff
"I have seen it firsthand, the difference that it makes when your eternity is secure," said Chaplain (Maj.) Jeff Struecker, U.S. Army (Ret.) after recounting how prayer helped shape the outcome of his personal experiences during the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu.

Struecker, who served as an Army Ranger in the 75th Ranger Regiment during the infamous Battle of Mogadishu, shared how faith and prayer changed his life at the annual National Prayer Breakfast on Jan. 3.

While growing up, Struecker constantly battled with the fear of what would happen to him after he died. Thanks to Christian neighbors who sought to teach him about Jesus, Struecker confronted his fear and became a Christian at the age of 13.

Eventually Struecker enlisted in the Army and, in 1993, joined his fellow Rangers, special operators, Navy SEALs and Airmen in a mission to find Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid and other high-ranking clan leaders and "bring them to justice for the crimes they committed ..."

After a tip that the last two remaining high-ranking officials would be meeting each other in Mogadishu, the military forces, including a then- 24-year-old Struecker, moved into position with Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, MH-6 Little Bird helicopters and humvees.

"Now this was broad daylight, it was the very strong point of Aidid's controlled part of the city and it was the most dangerous of all circumstances," Struecker explained. "But this was too important of an opportunity to pass up."

"We placed humvees at each of the four corners of the target building that day," Struecker said as he described the events of that day. "The special operators were inside doing their business and the other Rangers were fast-roping into the target building ... This thing was going almost exactly like we thought it was going to go for the first 30 minutes -- with one exception."

As most people know thanks to Ridley Scott's movie "Black Hawk Down," things began to take a turn for the worse when Pvt. 1st Class Todd Blackburn somehow fell 70 feet while fast-roping out of his helicopter. Soon afterward, another Black Hawk, call sign Super 6-1, was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Struecker was then contacted by his commander and told to move Blackburn back to the base. After picking Blackburn up, Struecker's humvee took sporadic enemy gunfire as they slowly maneuvered down the rugged streets of Mogadishu at 10 to 15 mph.

"We pulled down this narrow alleyway that was right next to the target building and then we turned onto ... one of the only major roads in Mogadishu," Struecker said as he described the long road back to the base. "When I turned that corner it seemed like the entire city erupted with gunfire ...

"From a hundred directions at one time from point blank range -- 10 or 20 feet away -- I was getting shot at with rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47s and hand grenades -- from rooftops to alleyways to doorways and windows."

Struecker ordered his men to cover each side of the humvee -- left, right, back and front -- with gunfire so that they could hopefully move through the street. As they continued on, one of Struecker's men, Sgt. Dominick Pilla, spotted a Somali gunman and took aim. Just as Pilla fired a shot, the Somali gunman also fired and both men were killed.

"To this day he's the greatest machine gunner I've ever known," Struecker said of Pilla.

At this point Struecker and his men began to panic.

"For the first time since I was a 13-year-old boy I started to panic, thinking, 'I'm not going to make it through this ...'" Struecker said. "Then I started to think to myself, 'You know what, I'm a leader and I'm in charge here. And I need to get myself under control if I'm going to be able to get my men under control.'ââ"

Struecker then took up Pilla's gunner position as well as his own and, despite a few more challenges along the way, the exhausted group of men finally made it back to the base.

"I thought to myself, 'God, I can't believe that you spared my life. I can't believe that I'm alive right now, I can't believe that any of us just survived that,'" Struecker said as he described his relief after making it safely back.

His relief was short-lived, however. After their return, Struecker and his men were informed that two Black Hawks, Super 6-1 and Super 6-4, had been shot down over the city. They were to load the humvee back up and head back into the battle to rescue any survivors they could find.

As Struecker prepared the humvee for its return to battle, he faced what he called "hands down, the most terrifying moments of my life."

"Every fiber of my being was saying, 'No, don't do this. This is crazy, it's a suicide mission!'ââ" he said as he recalled those moments alone at the back of the humvee. Still, he could not abandon his brothers and knew full well that, as an Army Ranger, he would never leave a fallen comrade behind.

"So I did at that point what any Christian, what any man or woman of faith, would do: I started to pray," Struecker said. "ââ'God I'm in big trouble and I need your help.'

"As I was standing at the back of that humvee, God started to remind me of a few things that I'd known all along but it just never really sank in like it did at that moment," he said. "You see, he started to remind me that my life is in his hands. There's nothing that I can do to protect it, there's nothing that I can do to lose it. All that I need to do is to simply trust in the sovereign God with my future.

"Then he started to remind me that my eternity -- whatever happens to me after life on this Earth is over with -- that was secured once and for all 2,000 years ago when my Savior paid the price for my sins. This changed how I fought for the rest of the night.

"From that moment forward, I had a perfect peace about what was going to happen ..." Struecker said calmly.

"That gave me the courage to go back out to the city streets -- not once but twice -- and ultimately to stay out there until 9:30 in the morning the next day in humvees that were shot up and riddled with bullet holes until we could round everybody up and bring them back to the base."

Struecker described how the day after really changed his point of view. As friends and fellow soldiers walked up to him and asked questions about his faith and what had happened, he began to realize that God had a different plan for him than kicking in doors as an Army Ranger.

"Most of them were saying, 'Jeff, there was something different about you last night. I could hear it on the radio, I could see it in your eyes. You have something that I don't have,'ââ" Struecker said as he described the reactions of his friends.

For the next 24 hours, he had a line of Soldiers, Airmen, SEALs and others lined up at his door, waiting to hear his answers to their questions about Christianity, faith and how prayer can lead you through even the toughest of times.