As the Battle of Mogadishu, commonly referred to as Black Hawk Down, escalated around him, U.S. Army Ranger, Jeff Struecker reconciled with death. Surrounded by brutal violence and death, that moment of prayer and acceptance, freed him of fear in a way that many soldiers around him found inspirational. Return to Mogadishu: Remembering Black Hawk Down is a 9-minute movie, filmed in 2013, following Jeff and another former U.S. Army Ranger, Keni Thomas, as they return to the war-torn streets of Mogadishu—a trip no other Ranger has risked.
What inspired you to make this short film?
Jim Hocker, the Executive Producer, saw my first film and approached me about making “Return To Mogadishu.” Jeff Struecker’s story had already reached half a million people through a small booklet entitled “Bullet Proof Faith.” After reading the booklet and seeing its impact on soldiers I was thrilled to tell his story through the medium of film. Seeing the stacks of thousands of personal letters written in response to the booklet moved me. Another factor was this story’s connection to the Rwandan genocide. Just before saying yes to RTM I had become involved in seeing Immaculee Ilibagiza’s Rwandan genocide survival story brought to the big screen. When Jeff informed me of the connection between Black Hawk Down and the Rwandan genocide and his desire to apologize to Rwandans, it was clear that I needed to be a part of telling this story through film.
Why is it important for your protagonist to return to Mogadishu?
The power of Jeff’s story is his courage in the face of death. He moved forward in the midst of fear in such a way that his fellow soldiers approached him after the battle, curious about what set him apart during the firefight. We wanted to tell his story in the most powerful way and filming his return to the site of the battle seemed like the most powerful way. It was also the first time anyone from Task Force Ranger had returned and in light of the 20-year anniversary this October, it seemed like an interesting, dangerous and important setting.
Who is your intended audience?
We hope millions of people view this film that come from a variety of backgrounds. Obviously those active in the military or veterans will find a particular interest in it. But we hope that we have told the story in such a way that it is accessible to a broad range of people.
What do you want viewers to walk away with?
Three things come to mind when I think about my hopes for this film. First, I hope that it allows people to get a taste of what our service men and women go through in defense of our nation and are more deeply grateful for the sacrifices that they make to ensure our freedom. I hope this film reaches many who are unfamiliar with the history behind The Battle of Mogadishu and peaks curiosity that leads to a greater education about this particular event. Most people after viewing the film have expressed their desire to watch “Black Hawk Down” and to read the book. Lastly, Jeff Struecker’s faith is central to his experience in Mogadishu. I hope that viewers are curious about his faith and will want to hear more from Jeff about this. The “Hear More From Jeff” link on our site [under “Story”] gives our viewers an opportunity to begin to learn more.
Do you think the soldier’s faith made them better soldiers?
That’s a great question. I think so. Jeff’s ability to move forward courageously in the midst of a terrifying situation as well as his ability to rally others to follow him into the firefight is one example of how his faith made him a better soldier. Jeff competed in the 1996 David L Grange Best Ranger competition and won. He is among the “best of the best” when it comes to soldiers. I think if you asked him he would say that his faith influenced the way that he fought.
The idea that Jeff Struecker is fearless because of his faith raises some difficult ethical issues. On the one hand, we admire his bravery and calm in the face of such violence, but there is also something unsettling about it. It reminds me of how fanatics justify suicide missions. Is there something problematic about the idea of a soldier who feels right with God and prepared to die?
Another great question. I think there is a distinct difference between Jeff’s faith and peace with God and those who engage in violent suicide missions. Jeff’s peace with God was settled not because he was willing to die, but because Jesus died. Jeff wasn’t justifying himself before God by fighting, but because he was justified he was able to face death without fear. Also, Jeff’s objective wasn’t to kill, but to rescue his fellow soldiers who had fallen.
Jesus, preparing to face crucifixion, asked God to spare him. I’ve wondered if that meant Jesus didn’t really know what was to come—He is still laying out His hopes before God, and His hope is for life. The soldiers in your film describe being ready to die because of their faith, but I don’t think Christ was even ready to die. It seems to me that the Bible describes a deep value to human life and resistance to the acceptance of death. So, when I watch your film and the coolness with which the soldier describes his freedom from death, it unnerves me. He explains that “death really became less significant to me in Somalia,” and while that gave him, as an individual, peace, it seems like a dangerous thing to place in the hands of military leaders, an army of soldiers with no fear of death would be a powerful and frightening military force. As you made this film, were you faced with ethical dilemmas of how to tell their story?
I guess I see Jeff and Jesus in a similar position. Jeff didn’t want to die, he very much wanted to live and return home to his family. But, despite their desires to live, Jesus and Jeff were willing to sacrifice their lives for others. In the case of Jesus, he lost his life. Jeff’s story could have ended similarly, but for some reason he survived. What the battle clarified for Jeff was his perspective on life and death and eternity. His time in Somalia crystallized for him the importance of eternity. He has dedicated his life since the battle to inviting others into a relationship with God through Christ: First as a chaplain and now as a pastor. To answer your question about an ethical dilemma, I did not face one. My agenda and objective was to faithfully tell Jeff’s story. I think we’ve done that.