VETERANS DAY: From Army Ranger to chaplain to seminary professor

NASHVILLE (BP) – Reflecting on Veterans Day (Nov.11), retired U.S. Army Major Jeff Struecker said he views the attention and praise garnered from his illustrious military service as an opportunity to “steward” the Gospel message.

Struecker, now an assistant professor of Christian leadership at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 18 and served 23 consecutive years until 2011 – 13 years as an Army Ranger and 10 years as a chaplain.

Struecker earned numerous medals for his service and was inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame in 2017. But he is perhaps best known for being one of those depicted in the 2001 film “Black Hawk Down,” as part of the infamous U.S. military peacekeeping mission to Mogadishu, Somalia, that turned violent in October 1993.

Struecker said he received so many speaking requests resulting from the film that he could not accept them all even if he wanted to. And though the attention he received after the film’s release was initially unwelcome, he said it became an opportunity for Gospel ministry.

“That movie thrust me into the spotlight in ways that I never asked for and didn’t really want, but looking back on it now, I can see God’s sovereign hand,” he said.

“Not only did it thrust me into the spotlight, the movie also opened up incredible doors of opportunity for me to share the Gospel with a lot of guys and gals that are not interested in church and would not hear the Gospel any other way. I refer to it as being ‘a steward of a story.’”

In his current role at Southeastern, Struecker (who earned a Ph.D. there in Christian leadership) now tries to steward the Gospel story by instilling in his students the leadership principles he learned through his Army experience.

“Probably the most profound way that I was impacted by the military was the guys and gals that I served next to,” he said. “They really helped build me into the man that I am today through a variety of means. I really learned what it means to be a man. … They had a massive impact on me. It’s hard for me to overstate.”

“Leadership is a passion of mine, and it’s an area that the church definitely needs. That (training young leaders) is one of the things I have the honor of doing at Southeastern. The students that I get the chance to teach are making incredible sacrifices for the kingdom. It is beautiful who they are and what they’re placing on the line for the Great Commission.”

He encourages some young people to pursue their ministry calling in the armed forces.

“If you are feeling a call to ministry and you’re feeling undecided about where that is and you’re very patriotic, then you really should consider military chaplaincy,” Struecker said. “There are a lot of requirements to become a military chaplain, but I think it’s absolutely worth it. The guys and gals that are serving in the military really do deserve the greatest ministry on the planet.”

Struecker said Veterans Day is a time when Christians have the opportunity not only to thank veterans for their service, but also to reflect on how they can better serve veterans and their families throughout the year.

“The overarching thing I would say is just show up and care,” he said.

“Make it known that you want to help a warrior and their family in whatever practical way that you can. Every warrior is going to be different and everybody’s service to the military is slightly different, but the essence of the needs is all the same … just roll up your sleeves and meet those practical needs.”

Struecker said he always stayed involved with a local church throughout his time of service, and now serves as pastor of 2 Cities Church in Columbus, Ga.

“When I was overseas, people in the church were there to help my family with a problem, and the biggest ministry people in the church have ever done for me personally is to be there for my family when I couldn’t be there for them,” he said.

“You can never go wrong with telling a warrior “thank you,” especially on Veterans Day. The guys and gals that have served our country, they didn’t do it for money or for medals, they did it because they loved the country. Just saying thank you goes a long way. “

When reflecting on the sacrifices veterans make, many even sacrificing their own lives, Struecker said it’s important for Christians to recognize this is the same devotion Jesus demands from His followers.

“All of us are called to sacrifice, and I think the notion of comfortable Christianity would have been borderline heresy in the first century,” Struecker said. “I will quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer to say, ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.’”

“This is what the Gospel expects of us; this is what the Gospel asks of us. Every Christian should be sacrificing greatly for the cause of the kingdom. Those who are not, there is something wrong with your Christianity.

“This Veterans Day when people will look a veteran in the eye and say thank you for the sacrifices you and your family made for our country, I want to make sure in the Christian’s mind they are saying, ‘How can I do anything less for my Savior than this man or women did for my country? How could I as a follower of Jesus Christ make any less sacrifice than the guys and gals who have sacrificed for our country?’”

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