On the day Americans exercised their freedom to vote, retired U.S. Army Ranger Maj. Jeff Struecker, whose actions inspired the movie Black Hawk Down, spoke on behalf of veterans across the country about the sacrifices of war and the troubles veterans face when they return home.
The fact that you and I can go to the polls and select the next leader of our country and do it in peace is different then what most of the world experiences, Struecker said. That has to do with the sacrifices of the men and women in uniform.
USF Veterans Services and the Student Veterans Association launched their third annual Veterans Week with a ceremony honoring the U.S. military, with Struecker as the keynote speaker in the Marshall Student Center (MSC) Amphitheater on Tuesday. Struecker, who endured an 18-hour firefight in Somalia during the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, a U.S. and UN operation to distribute food in the country,shared his experiences in battle.
While Struecker was in Somalia, he said, he fought against armed soldiers who used women and children as human shields against American troops. The experiences soldiers face in war, Struekcer said, are nothing that ordinary citizens think about in the private sector.
For whatever reason, God preserved my life and gave me an opportunity to survive the mission in Somalia, he said. I was presented with ethical difficulties and moral dilemmas that I was not prepared for.
Struecker said that in 1993, media outlets often portrayed the events in Somalia incorrectly, and citizens were ignorant of the soldiers hardships. He said media outlets were focused on the deaths of civilians caused by American troops, rather than the Somalians use of human shields and the real issues on the ground.
He said soldiers had to make serious ethical decisions while under fire.
I was confronted with experiences in Somalia that I never anticipated and that forged me into the man that I am today, he said.
Today, Struecker said he is concerned about the culture veterans return to in America. He said the biggest problem is when soldiers return and cannot connect with other people.
I am concerned about the massive percentage of our population that has no clue what the military man and woman goes through when they are overseas, and have no idea how to relate to them when they get back, he said.
Struecker said he and a few other soldiers marched with the mayor of New York City in a city Veterans Day parade. During the parade, protestors shouted insults that he considered uninformed, and one even came up to them and spit on them, for what Struecker said was a political statement.
It dawned on me that most of the country will never know the circumstances and sacrifices that men and women in the military go through, he said. For the rest of my career, at that moment, I kept in the back of my mind that they will never completely relate. Unfortunately, every day, this gap is growing wider and wider between the men and women who serve and those who are protected by the military who will never have any idea what they have done for us.
Larry Braue, director of USF Veterans Services, said Struecker served as an inspiration to both him and his comrades.
His tremendous humility and character is what defines him, Braue said.
After the ceremony, Struecker, who has authored five books based on his experiences in battle, signed copies of his books. Veterans Week continues with a chili cook-off at the MSC Amphitheater today at noon, and tomorrow with a Veterans Outreach Expo outside the Office of Veterans Services in the John and Grace Allen Building.