SAN ANTONIO (BP)–Capt. Jeff Struecker has walked “The Road to Unafraid,” an experience he described vividly in his book by the same name. As an Army chaplain with the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, Ga., he continues to walk with Jesus Christ, leading many of his fellow soldiers along the way.
Introduced as a true American hero in the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” firefight in Somalia, Struecker told an audience of 150 at the annual Southern Baptist chaplains’ luncheon June 11 that chaplaincy is a ministry that most resembles the ministry of Jesus when He walked the earth.
“I love pastors, but a pastor may only serve his people a couple of hours a week,” Struecker said jokingly as the chaplains, many of whom also are pastors, reacted with good-natured laughter.
“An evangelist may see a person for only a few minutes and won’t see that person again this side of eternity,” Struecker said. “A missionary will leave his home, family and friends, dedicate his or her life to studying the culture and languages of a people group, and then spend the rest of their lives serving and sharing his faith with those people.” But the missionary never will be truly a member of that group, he said.
Chaplains live, eat, breathe and sleep with their flock, Struecker said. Chaplains also fight, live and die with the men and women to whom they minister.
“This is exactly the same kind of ministry Jesus Christ had,” he said. “He was one of the people but radically different from them at the same time.”
One of the characters depicted in the 2001 movie Black Hawk Down is based on Struecker, coauthor the book The Road to Unafraid in which he tells the story of his battle experiences, especially his fateful assignment as an Army Ranger sergeant in a special operations unit sent to Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993.
At the time, Somalia was run by Muslim warlords and was a dangerous place to be. Struecker was among those who survived an intense 18-hour battle with local Muslim fighters.
“Before that day in Somalia, I was convinced I’d always be a soldier, a warrior and a Ranger for the rest of my life,” Struecker recounted. “I had made up my mind that I’m going to serve in the most dangerous situations my country can put me in. That was fine with me.
“But a firefight in Somalia absolutely, radically changed my life, and a faith in Jesus Christ gave me the courage to stand fearlessly when men were dying to my left and right,” he said. “After that, God started to show me the possibilities of sharing my faith to guys who would never have heard my witness otherwise.”
Struecker said God started to show him He had something greater and much more important for him to do with his life than to liberate countries and free people in foreign lands.
“God showed me that He would give me opportunities to share my faith and that it would make a difference not only here on earth but for eternity,” he told the chaplains. “I realized there’s something more important than liberating people on this earth — that it’s more important where they spend eternity, offering them true liberty and freedom found only in Jesus Christ, and freedom that would last forever.”
In addition to Somalia, Struecker also has seen combat in Panama, Kuwait, and multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Struecker holds a number of military service medals and awards, including the Bronze Star for valor. He won the Army’s “Best Ranger” competition in 1996 and was selected “U.S. Army Reserve Officer Training Corps Non-commissioned Officer of the Year” in 1998.
A native of Fort Dodge, Iowa, Struecker said he accepted Christ as a teenager. But when he enlisted in the Army in 1987, he didn’t live like a Christian for a long time, he said. Once he and his wife Dawn married 15 years ago, “God really dealt with me about the way I was living. I decided from that point forward, whatever it cost me, I was going to live a life consistent with my faith,” Struecker said. “I am a living example of the fact that no man or woman can be so far away, their lives so mired in sin, their hearts so hard that God can’t turn them around.”
Struecker, a father of five, preached on a recent Sunday to 3,000 soldiers, and more than 400 made decisions for Christ, said Keith Travis, director of chaplaincy for the North American Mission Board.
Looking at the chaplains in the room at the luncheon, Struecker said, “You are my heroes for what you do in the military, in the corporate world, in corrections, in healthcare and in dozens of other areas. I thank God for what you do.
“I am honored to be called a chaplain and to be able to present the message of Jesus Christ to men and women in and out of uniform because of the difference He has made in my life,” Struecker said.
A graduate of Troy State University in Alabama, Struecker earned a master of divinity degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Prior to Struecker’s remarks, the chaplains heard from SBC President Frank Page and Geoff Hammond, the new president of the North American Mission Board.
“I bring you greetings on behalf of NAMB, our staff, missionaries and a lot of Baptists who have a love for chaplaincy work,” Hammond said. “You in the chaplain corps have a wonderful privilege of sharing Christ, comforting troops [and] being encouragers to those in harm’s way and to their families. We at NAMB want to help you anyway we can in your chaplaincy work, so that we might turn North America around for Jesus Christ.”
Page said every place he has ever served as a pastor has been touched by the chaplaincy.
“You’re on the front lines. I’ve seen your commitment and your call lived out in powerful ways,” Page said.