Operation Heal Our Patriots helps military couples build friendships through shared experiences
Boarding the plane to Samaritan Lodge Alaska, Bev Poyer wanted a photo to remember the beginning of her adventure. Never mind that she had met fellow passenger Susie Aquino for the first time just a few minutes earlier.
“Pose like we’re best friends,” she told Susie as Bev’s husband, Max, pointed the camera.
Bev had no idea at the time, but by week’s end her words would prove to be prophetic.
Bev and retired Corporal Max Poyer and Susie and Sergeant Sam Aquino did just about everything together at Samaritan Lodge—fishing, eating, attending marriage classes, just relaxing. It was clear to everyone that they enjoyed each other’s company.“I haven’t seen Max laugh like that with someone in a long time,” Bev said as Max and Sam played a game of beanbag toss one night across from the fire pit.
“Bev and me are a lot alike. Sam and Max are a lot alike,” Susie said. “The four of us have just been drawn to each other.”
Samaritan Lodge is the centerpiece of Operation Heal Our Patriots, the Samaritan’s Purse ministry to bring God’s healing love to wounded soldiers and their spouses. The fact that the Poyers and Aquinos even met there could be considered providential. Both couples experienced changes in plans—Max and Beverly were scheduled to visit in August, but they had to delay until September—that eventually ended up with them being the only people on a small plane headed to the lodge at Port Alsworth.
“That was a God thing,” Bev said.Susie added, “I think it was meant to be. Things happen for a reason.”
Shared Experiences Form Quick Bonds
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of couples helping other couples through Operation Heal Our Patriots. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17, NIV). Who better knows the effects of deployment and injuries on a marriage than another couple that has experienced the same things?
“Hearing the other wives talk, you can relate,” Susie said. “They’re pretty much the only ones who can understand you. It’s a whole different community. You feel like you’ve known them forever.”
Josh Sanner, an excursion guide at Samaritan Lodge Alaska, said that as the groups got larger toward the end of last summer, he saw more beneficial interactions between the couples.
“I’ve seen them pouring into each other’s lives,” he said as he watched visiting veterans fishing at the bottom of Tanalian Falls.
Lori Fisher, who works with the veterans and their spouses alongside her husband, Chaplain James Fisher, feels that lifelong friendships will be started among the couples because they’ve shared defining moments together in Alaska. Unlike retreats where just one spouse attends, the Samaritan Lodge experience forms bonds together between couples.Both couples have been through rough times, but the Samaritan Lodge experience—daily devotions, marriage enrichment classes, and time spent with caring Christian staff—made an impact. Sam said he and Susie got more out of the Bible-based marriage classes led by Chaplain Fisher than from other counseling.
Being in God’s creation’s also affected Sam.
“I am not a religious person, but this definitely brings you close to God,” he said. “This is a place where you can see there is something bigger than you.”
Bev said being around more mature Christian couples like the Fishers and lodge managers Mark and Sandy Lang made her want what they have.
“Seeing how they interact with each other and knowing that they have a strong faith that their marriage is built on—that’s something that I want,” she said.
The Poyers and Aquinos shared many unforgettable experiences during their week together. Bev likes to call one of them her “knight in shining armor” moment. While crossing a river on a fishing trip, her waders flooded. Max came and rescued her. Sam and Max then built a fire for her and dried her socks. It was no life-or-death situation, but it was a great memory for couples to share.
“We’ve gotten really close to Max and Bev. It’s been fun,” Sam said before leaving Alaska. “I hope we can help each other out.”
Since veteran couples will be followed up through Operation Heal Our Patriots for life, they will have opportunities to see each other again. In late February, for example, there will be a reunion/conference held at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina. The Poyers and Aquinos have kept in touch since last September and are looking forward to attending.