They were shaken by terror, but they've now been transformed by grace after receiving Christ in Alaska
Editor’s Note: It’s been 15 years since terrorist attacks rocked our nation September 11, 2001, and required the swift and decisive response of our Armed Forces. However, the war on terror has come at a cost. Many servicemen and women paid with their lives or with scars that are slow to heal. One couple we met last year with Operation Heal Our Patriots at Samaritan Lodge Alaska experienced 9/11 and its aftermath in a very personal way.
Each year for five years running, Samaritan Lodge Alaska has served as a place of healing for couples swept up in the world-shifting events following September 11, 2001. Every week for 16 weeks Operation Heal Our Patriots hosts 10 wounded veterans and their spouses for a weeklong marriage enrichment experience at the edge of the Alaska wilderness.
A decade and a half into the war on terror, the results of multiple deployments to the deserts and mountains of Iraq and Afghanistan are still painfully obvious. Veterans walk with canes, require specially designed wheelchairs or prosthetics, and many are still battling the residual, debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. The injuries sustained extend beyond the veterans and into their families.
As the 2016 season of Operation Heal Our Patriots soon draws to a close, the sacrifices of so many are fresh on our minds. And so are the events that required these military men and women to place themselves in harm’s way.
Army Sergeant Josh Grzywa and his wife, Neysa, enter into the 15-year anniversary of 9/11 with cause for remembrance and thankfulness. This year on 9/11, they will mark the one-year anniversary of when they said “yes” at Samaritan Lodge Alaska to Christ and to ministry, even as they recall the events of 9/11–events that are still up intensely personal.
Responding at the Pentagon
That Tuesday began with the hum of Josh’s normal routine. His unit, known as the Old Guard of the Third Army Regiment, was responsible for rendering service to fallen soldiers at Arlington Cemetery and for attending to special visiting dignitaries.
On September 11, 2001, Josh arose at 4 a.m. and prepared to assist an Australian official who was visiting the Pentagon.
“There was nothing out of the ordinary,” Josh recalled. “It was just a routine morning. The day before, our unit had visited Gettysburg, and it had made a big impression on me since we had not been in battle before.”
Just a few hours later the battle began.
“Like so many, we had heard about the attack on the twin towers and were watching television,” Josh said. “I saw the plane go into the second tower. My military mind began to go into action. I remember thinking something wasn’t right.”
Planes nationwide were immediately grounded. Since his unit was based in the nation’s capital, Josh was accustomed to seeing planes arrive and depart from Reagan International Airport. One plane, however, was coming in abnormally low. It was American Airlines Flight 77, the aircraft that struck the Pentagon seconds later, killing 184 people.
With needed assets and vehicles, half of Josh’s platoon was immediately deployed.
“It was absolute chaos,” Josh recounted. “There were flames and smoke coming from the building. Debris was scattered everywhere. That is when I remember thinking, ‘this is real, we’re under attack.’”
As the numbing days went by and Josh’s unit continued cleanup efforts, the initial shock and chaos turned into more focused anger. “I joined during a time of peace, but I knew now we were going to war.”
God Has a Plan
Josh was deployed to Iraq where he fought until a mortar blast from enemy forces caused a severe concussion and damaged his lower spine. He underwent surgery on multiple vertebrae to repair the injury. He still suffers nerve damage that affects his back and legs.
His wife, Neysa, gently encouraged him to fill out an application to attend Operation Heal our Patriots, and, after a few years of prompting, he applied and was accepted.
“Well, God obviously had a plan, and it was His plan for us to be here,” he said. “We’re growing stronger as a couple, and I am forever grateful to Samaritan’s Purse for bringing us here. It’s like nothing I have ever seen or experienced.”
On the eve of 9/11, both Josh and Neysa received God’s saving grace by trusting Jesus as their Savior.
“Josh and Neysa came to Christ as a couple,” Chaplain Jim Fisher said. “They found healing from the Savior from the wounds of war, and they now have a desire to extend that healing to others.”
Neysa confirmed their hopes to speak into the lives and marriages of other wounded veterans.
“Every person comes into a marriage with some baggage,” she said. “When you add in deployments and injuries, it gets tougher. We know seven friends who … have thought about suicide. They felt like it was their only option. Now maybe we can help them.”
Over the past year, the Grzywas have started to realize this desire by helping veterans through the therapeutic activity of SCUBA diving.
“To me water symbolizes peace because there is nothing like that perfect peace when you’re under water,” said Neysa. “Every day we’re just bombarded by lights and noise and constant stimulus and being under water you’re just at peace.”
New Life, New Ministry
Josh and Neysa also want to share the deeper peace of the Gospel as they teach others of the same peace they experienced through Christ last year. Josh says he wants to give others the same opportunity he received in Alaska.
“I realized it’s okay to have faith and to be vulnerable and to believe in something beyond what you can control. In no point in my adult life was I ever given the opportunity to be true to myself or to commit myself to God,” he said. “So to have that opportunity as an adult to know fully what I was committing myself to that was more important than anything else.”
Neysa echoes this recounting her own spiritual journey. While 9/11 still continues to haunt her memories, the darkness of that day no longer overshadows her hope for the future. For her, what God did for her in Alaska has changed how she views life: “It’s mind blowing in a way that I can’t put into words.”