By Tim Hipps, U.S. Army Installation Management CommandMarch 17, 2017
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (March 16, 2017) -- Retired Army Major Jeff Struecker still counts his blessings for lessons learned about unity during and after the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, which inspired the book and movie "Black Hawk Down."
Struecker was a 24-year-old sergeant and squad leader assigned to Task Force Ranger as part of the 75th Ranger Regiment when he found himself in Somalia and mired in the longest sustained firefight involving American troops since the Vietnam War.
On Oct. 3, 1993, about 100 U.S. Soldiers were dropped by helicopter into the market area in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. Their mission was to apprehend two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord and return to base. It was supposed to take about an hour. Instead, they encountered a long night of fighting against thousands of heavily armed Somalis. Struecker, portrayed in the film by Brian Van Holt, led the three-vehicle convoy that eventually returned wounded Ranger Pvt. Todd Blackburn through intense fire and back to base.
He explained that Army special operators in the early to mid-1990s trained on the same targets at different times.
"We all learned a hard, painful lesson in Somalia because for the first time ever we were thrust into combat on the same target at the same time. For the first four to six weeks in Somalia, this was painful for everybody. If you read the read the book "Black Hawk Down," Mark Bowden describes this vividly. I think even the movie "Black Hawk Down" alludes to it when you really heard this special operator say to my commander, Capt. Mike Steele, 'Hey, this is my safety. I don't put my finger on the trigger unless I'm ready to kill somebody.' That's just not the way that we fought.
"So now you throw all of these folks together and put them in the heart of bad-guy territory and send them over there to do this almost impossible mission, and what we learned is we didn't know how to work together. … I'll just be frank, it was flat-out dysfunctional for the first few weeks that we were over there."
After his enlisted service ended in April 2000, Struecker became a chaplain and served multiple tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He said those experiences were "light years different" from his earlier deployments to Operation Desert Storm, Operation Just Cause, and the nightmare he survived as a squad leader in Mogadishu.
During a deployment to Iraq, "some bad guys were using a hospital as a staging base and killing coalition forces," he said.
"We decided we've got to go roll up this five-story hospital in Iraq," he explained. "And in order to pull this one off, Rangers are going to take one floor, other Special Operations forces are going to take the next floor, different Special Operations forces are going to take the next floor, and we will just keep leapfrogging until we've rolled up the entire hospital and neutralized all the bad guys inside that building.
"I said to most of the new folks in Special Operations, 'Never in a million years would this have been possible if it wasn't for the dysfunction of Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. If it wasn't for the painful process that we went through about figuring out how to be unified.'"
His final military assignment was as a chaplain with the Regimental Special Troops Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment. He retired from the military at the end of January 2011 and became senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in April of 2014.
Struecker was the guest speaker for a quarterly prayer luncheon hosted March 15 by Lt. Gen. Kenneth Dahl at the U.S. Army Installation Management Command headquarters.
He reached all the way back to Ranger School training for an anecdote to illustrate the importance of unity.
"The U.S. Army Ranger training really is a leadership school," Struecker said. "I think the genius of Ranger School is it's designed to teach you about you. It uses sleep deprivation and food deprivation and extreme exposure to the elements to show you your physical limits and then throws you in a leadership position and says 'Now have fun -- go lead.'
"You have, generally speaking, four or five Ranger students that are about to literally fall asleep into the water on the side of the boat -- they're tired, miserable, cold and hungry -- and you have four or five on the other side of the boat. And the challenge in this movement is many of them have never been on a boat in their life, certainly never had to do this in combat or in a training scenario like this, and if you don't row the boat together, the boat goes nowhere."
If folks on one side of the boat row like there's no tomorrow and those on the other side row as if they are clueless about rowing, the boat goes around in circles, he explained.
"It is maddening," Struecker exclaimed. "And it's really the guy in the back of the boat whose job is to get everybody rowing in the same direction. It's his job is to get everybody, this is the phrase we used in Ranger School, to give way together. And if you don't give way together, you don't get anywhere.
"I think this is really what it's like in the military -- this is really what it's like in life."
He's grateful, he said, that those lessons have been learned, both by him, and by the Army as an institution.