Beyond ‘Black Hawk Down’

One soldier’s desperate prayers emboldened his unit to complete their deadly mission.

by Jeff Struecker and Elizabeth Bahe 

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Black Hawk Helicopter
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Capt. Struecker and his family.

n the summer of 1993, a warlord in Mogadishu, Somalia, began to kill United Nationsworkers who were handing out food. They were a threat to his power. As a result, the U.S. Army called my unit and other men in the special-operations community to capture or kill him. The seventh and final operation is described in the book and hit 2001 movie Black Hawk Down.

I was a 24-year-old Army Ranger, responsible for nine men.

When we located targets inside a building, special-operations soldiers would drop from helicopters onto the rooftops and alleyways and rush in. Everything went as planned until one American fell 70 feet from his helicopter. It didn’t look like he would survive. We loaded him onto a backboard and placed him in a Humvee.

Driving back to the airfield, it  seemed like everyone in that city was shooting at us from every rooftop, window, and doorway.

Brad Paulson had a 50-caliber machine-gun on top of my vehicle, shooting out the left side. Dominick Pilla sat in the backseat, shooting to the right. Tim Moynihan fired at everything to the rear, and I shot from the front. Together we hoped to keep each other alive until we got back to the airfield. It didn’t work.

Dominick got shot in the forehead, died immediately, and slumped over onto Tim’s lap. I began to panic.

As soon as we returned to the airfield, my platoon leader said a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down. I would have to go back out.

Washing Dominick’s blood of my vehicle, I became petrified at the thought of my own death. I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I was going to die that night.

“God,” I prayed, “I need your help.” I pictured Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying before he went to the cross. I remembered his prayer: “Not my will, but yours be done.”

So I continued: “God, I don’t know what is going to happen next—but not my will; yours be done.”

At that moment I realized my life was firmly in God’s hands. If I survived by some miracle, I could be with my pregnant wife. But if I died, I would spend eternity with my Savior.

We loaded our vehicles with more ammunition and got ready to go back into the city. One of my men, brad Thomas, came up to me, “I can’t go back out there,” he said. “I got a wife and a family at home. I know that I’m going to die if I go back.”

“Brad, I know that you are afraid; I am scared too. The real difference between a hero and a coward is not the fear,” I said, “It’s what you do with the fear. I won’t make you go back, but we need you.”

I got in my vehicle and got ready to go. Brad Thomas picked up his weapon and got back in his vehicle. I have never been so proud of a soldier. We went back and forth three times and spent that night fighting for our lives.

When it was finally over, neither the bullets nor the blood made as much of an impression on me as the battle-hardened Rangers asking me questions with tears in their eyes.

“Why would God allow this to happen to us?”

“What happened to my friend who lost his life tonight?”

I still can’t explain why God would have allowed those things to happen, but their was one question I could answer. I did everything I could to tell as many soldiers as would listen about what would happen to them if they died. No matter what happened, I told them, if they knew Jesus, they would be fine.

Reprinted with permission of Worldwide Challenge magazine. Copyright 2003 Campus Crusade for Christ, Inc. All rights reserved.

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