Operation Heal Our Patriots opens third year of marriage retreats for military couples in wilderness Alaska
Low-hanging clouds cleared to reveal stunning snow-draped mountains as residents of Port Alsworth, Alaska, lined their airfield Sunday. The townspeople waved American flags and cheered as the plane bearing U.S. military couples to this year’s first week of marriage retreats through Operation Heal Our Patriots came into view.
The residents and Samaritan’s Purse staff members gave the couples a warm welcome when they disembarked from the plane, shaking hands and wishing them a great week at Samaritan Lodge Alaska.“I thought it was awesome,” said retired Army Staff Sergeant James Taylor regarding the welcome. James was medevacted out of Afghanistan in December 2009 after being run over and dragged by an enemy vehicle in a Taliban attack.
“I could not get through the line without crying,” said Azeita Taylor, James’s wife.
Operation Heal Our Patriots, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, enters its third season of ministering to wounded military personnel and their spouses
The 2014 summer season will run 15 weeks, starting June 1 and ending September 12. Each week 10 different couples are scheduled to participate in eight sessions of marriage enrichment training, daily devotions, and a variety of outdoor activities, including kayaking, fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing.
Not only the teaching and recreation but everything about the experience—from meals prepared by a world-class chef to cozy, accessible cabins to warm Christian service—is designed to bring husbands and wives closer to each other and to God.
“We are honored to serve these men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country,” said retired Marine Brigadier General Jim Walker, executive director of Operation Heal Our Patriots. “We see the foundations for long-term healing laid as couples attend and strengthen their marriages and grow in their faith.”
Couples Bound Together by Shared Experiences, New Adventure
The week 1 participants, ranging in age from 27 to 52, have been flown in from across the country, hailing from eight different states spanning coast to coast. A mix of active and retired service members, these couples represent the U.S. Marines, Army, and Navy.
What binds them together is the life- and relationship-changing impact of injuries sustained during the post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Each couple knows the common fears, doubts, questions, and pain that accompany a combat wound,” said retired Navy Captain Jim Fisher, who serves as supervisory chaplain for Operation Heal Our Patriots. “When they come up to Alaska they share experiences that offer hope, discovery, and community. For many this is the first time they really begin to open up and start helping each other.”Retired Marine Sergeant Rich Timberlake uses a cane and struggles with chronic nerve pain in his leg, groin, and back following a combat deployment to Afghanistan in 2009. As he and his wife, Kasey, waited for the flight from Anchorage to Port Alsworth, both said they were excited to see more of the scenery of America’s last frontier.
Although Kasey thought she’d never visit Alaska, Rich said he has had a special interest in the state ever since receiving a care package from an Alaskan family while he was stationed in Iraq in 2007. He said he was looking forward to “getting out and feeling small” compared to massive peaks.
“There’s no better way to bond strangers than through an adventure,” he said in anticipation of making connections with other couples that share similar experiences.
Since 2012, nearly 230 couples have gone through the Operation Heal Our Patriots program. Marriages have been restored through God’s healing love, and dozens of men and women have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ during their stay in Alaska.
An ongoing aftercare program—which includes an annual reunion as well as prayer support, help finding a local church, and regular personal contact—encourages couples in their relationship and spiritual growth.
Please pray for all the couples participating in this week’s retreat, which happens to coincide with the beginning of Military Appreciation Month in the U.S. Ask God to bless and encourage each spouse through the teaching, devotions, and other activities.