To view a video about Chaplain Jeff Struecker, click here.
FORT BENNING, Ga. (BP)–Even on a warm day, the water in Ranger Lake at Fort Benning, Ga., is so cold it hurts. Chaplain (Capt.) Jeff Struecker steps in wearing black running shorts and a RANGER-emblazoned T-shirt. He even flashes a bright grin.
“Who wants to go first?” Struecker asks, signaling to a young soldier who likewise flashes a smile in anticipation of the pain. He steps in quickly. Any hesitation to undergo pain would seem out of sync in a place like Fort Benning’s Ranger Training School where the Army’s toughest, bravest and brightest experience the most discomfort and fatigue many of them will ever face — combat zones included.
“You’re not only a fellow soldier and friend, now you’re a brother in Christ,” Struecker says, slapping the soldier’s wet shirt.
In a place like Fort Benning, an activity like this normally would work to toughen a soldier to the harsh elements he’ll face in battle. Today, though, these soldiers are stepping into the frigid waters to celebrate a victory they’ve found in Christ.
An Army chaplain and fellow Ranger himself, Struecker on this day is baptizing four Rangers — the fruit of relationships in which he has sown the Gospel. Often, such men have been desperate, hurting, questioning and dealing with difficult pasts that may have driven them to the military. Then they struggle through basic, Ranger and other training.
“The Army has a tendency to confront people with who they are — physically, mentally and spiritually,” Struecker says. “I have the opportunity to help them grow spiritually as they undergo these harsh conditions.”
Weeks before, in the swamps of Florida, the same Ranger class stood at attention following an exercise, with just enough food and clothing to keep them functional. Some men slept standing up.
A number of them listened dreary-eyed as Struecker shared with them. On that day in the Florida swamps, four of them accepted Christ.
“Guys will step into my office and say, ‘I’m having trouble with my marriage or trouble with training,'” Struecker said. “I pray with them, share Scripture and ultimately share the Gospel.”
Struecker sees himself as a Ranger pastor. He’s in the ministry for the long haul. A few weeks ago, he resigned his post as Ranger school chaplain and signed on full-time with the 75th Ranger Regiment.
The 75th Ranger Regiment was the group with which Struecker entered Mogadishu, Somalia, in October 1993 as a younger Ranger sergeant. Hollywood made a movie, “Black Hawk Down,” about the ill-fated military operation in Somalia from which Struecker and his fellow Rangers barely escaped alive. Struecker was among the soldiers portrayed in the movie.
Struecker has been on the front line of every U.S. conflict abroad since Panama -– either as a gun-bearing Ranger or as a chaplain.
“This is the best church I could pastor,” he says. “These guys are my heroes. I have the best congregation in the world.”
Adam Miller is associate editor of On Mission magazine at the North American Mission Board. Click here to view a video about Chaplain Struecker.