Nobody is born brave. Not even former Army Ranger Jeff Struecker. Courageous men and women are made, not born. I (John Lovell) sat down recently with Jeff, one of the bravest men I know, to talk about the importance of courage and how to grow in courage day by day. As you might know, Jeff was featured in both the movie and the book Black Hawk Down, which chronicles the actions of U.S. Army Rangers who helped rescue fellow soldiers and service members from deadly mobs in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia.
Jeff Struecker is a legend. If you've ever seen the movie Black Hawk Down or read the book, you've probably seen his name as part of the Ranger 3rd Battalion whose convoy rode into harm's way where hundreds of Somalis, armed with AKs and RPGs and high on khat, were aggressing toward the crew of a downed Black Hawk helicopter.
Jeff is also a personal hero and friend of mine who deployed with my Ranger battalion a number of times, though then serving as the Ranger chaplain. Now he's a pastor at a church in Georgia. He also recently competed in the Munga, an unbelievably tough five-day endurance event in South Africa.
Jeff and I sat down for an interview for our new show and talked about courage, a characteristic that's becoming increasingly rare in our modern culture, a culture that celebrates sex, comfort, and individuality more highly than the real virtues that strengthen a society.
Here are some of Jeff's thoughts on courage and how we can become more courageous in the big life-or-death moments and in everyday life.
Everyone Has Certain Fears, and Every Day There's An Opportunity to Face Them
Jeff recounted his early days as a Ranger on his first deployment–1989 during Operation Just Cause in Panama.
"I was totally terrified," Jeff recalls. "I'm not sure I understood what was happening around me."
Then Jeff deployed to Kuwait during Desert Storm just a couple of years later. He was caught in firefights and rocket attacks on a regular basis during those deployments, and this was where he realized that fear doesn't go away. You just learn how to manage it. Your responses become more measured, rational, and proportional to the threat or challenge. This is the beginning of courage. Understanding the truth of the situation rather than believing the lie that emotions can sometimes create.
"Courage builds, and it builds on itself," Jeff said. "The more I faced what I feared, the more i knew how to process and respond to it."
Similar to how repetition and intensity are essential to growing muscle and athletic capacity in the gym, growing courage requires the repetition of facing the thing you're afraid of.
Unfortunately, in modern western culture it's possible to live an unbelievably comfortable life where we come home from work, eat food without effort, stream entertainment on our devices, and live within our little bubbles.
But in reality, Jeff reminds us, there are plenty of scary things out there. If we constantly avoid them, then when they do strike we're devastated and blindsided. We respond with panic and grief.
"While I'm not encouraging anyone to just impulsively go out and do something you're afraid of, I am saying that each of us has a few 'what ifs' that we don't want to face," Jeff said. "Every human on the planet has persistent fears. Building courage means that you do the right thing, take the right action, as you face the everyday fears."
Courage is a Muscle that You Can Build
Courage doesn't come all at once.
"It's a matter of doing it step by step," Jeff said. "It's day by day. You build on the courage. As you face what scares you, you'll have a little more courage today than you had yesterday and a little more courage tomorrow than you had today." And, he says, there are at three types of courage, each one strengthening the next–physical courage, moral courage, and spiritual courage. He emphasizes this mindset through his work teaching resiliency and courage.
Developing the Different Types of Courage
Physical Courage is the courage to complete hard physical challenges such as completing military or athletic training phases, especially when the voice of self-pity wants you to shrink back toward comfort.
It means running toward the fire to save the family, running toward the firefight to save fellow soldiers, or speeding into Mogadishu to rescue people you've never met and knowing you might not come back.
"This is when you realize you just have to dig deeper to find the courage you never knew was there," Jeff says. "In those few moments when the fear you're facing is so overwhelming you don’t have it inside of you to handle it, a mentor of mine told me to ask these questions: What kind of man or woman do you want to be in the future? When you talk to your children or grandchildren about it, do you want to be the kind of guy who ran away or the one who says 'when I was afraid I faced it'?
During the battle of Mogadishu, Jeff said he was responsible to get his men out and had to dig down deeper than ever before.
"I realized I was starting to lose control. We were surrounded by a thousand armed Somalis, many of them about 10 feet away from us," Jeff recalls. "I was leading this three vehicle convoy. Fear was spreading like wildfire. I had to step outside myself and speak to myself, "You're in control of this convoy. You’ve got to get yourself under control".
Needless to say, Jeff got them back to base safely, and he tapped into reserves of courage he never knew existed.
Developing Physical Courage makes it easier to build your Moral Courage, the type of courage that enables you to respond bravely and honorably in the face of dissenting, violent voices commanding you to back down from your principles.
Moral Courage means you stand your ground when you know that what you’re being asked to do or to say or not say. Sometimes this means standing by yourself. You might not be rescuing people from a firefight, but you are rescuing the truth from the darkness that wants to swallow or drown it in self-serving lies.
And of course, Moral Courage is the root of Spiritual Courage. This is when you realize that the truth you're defending does not originate with humanity or with the universe but rather with the Creator of everything.
Jeff says this is when you're defending and holding onto something that is not only morally right, but eternally true and infinitely valuable.
Teach Others to be Courageous
Fear is contagious and can spread like wildfire, but so can courage. When you act with courage in the face of fear, you are building goodness and life in the people around you.
This is why Jeff says it's vitally important to spend time with courageous people, and also to help strengthen the courage in the people in your life–your spouse, family, children, friends, and colleagues.
In the face of cancel culture and increasing violence, courage is a dwindling but increasingly important virtue for warriors and defenders to develop.
"You can't expect courage to be consequence free," Jeff said. "You just need to decide what kind of man or woman you want to be and stand. It doesn't come easy. It doesn't come consequence free. But I believe that until our time is up, we're invincible."
Jeff said that's what made one of his heroes, General Stonewall Jackson, such a stone wall. The General was quoted saying this after standing bravely in a withering hail of bullets:
My religious faith teaches me that there is a sovereign God in heaven. The date of my death is fixed and there's nothing that can change it. Therefore I can be as safe on the battlefield as I am in my own bed.
Train Hard. Train Smart. Train Your Courage. Live Free.