Army staff sergeant Kevin Gabert was excited to visit Operation Heal Our Patriots in Alaska because he wanted to go fishing. But what he found while there was much greater.
Kevin Gabert, an avid fly fisherman and retired Army staff sergeant from Independence, Mo., wanted to get to America’s last frontier and do some fishing. Some help with his marriage would be good too. But the fishing was foremost in his mind as he prepared for the Operation Heal Our Patriots retreat in Alaska.
However, what he quickly found through our program far exceeded his expectations.
During his stay in Alaska in late August, he received the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, was baptized in Lake Clark’s Hardenburg Bay, and renewed his marriage vows with his wife Debbie.
“I caught more than I ever dreamed of,” Kevin, 49, said.
Operation Heal Our Patriots, a Samaritan’s Purse project, ministers to military couples with spouses who have been injured or wounded in combat or combat-related activities since 9/11. Couples are flown to Port Alsworth in southwest Alaska where they enjoy almost a week of wilderness views, great meals, outdoor activities, marriage classes, and devotions. A reunion for couples is held in February and follow-up continues throughout the year.
Kevin’s frame of mind began to shift as soon as the plane touched down in Port Alsworth on Sunday afternoon. A flag-waving crowd of our staff and local residents greeted him, Debbie, and all the other couples.
“When you first arrive and you see all the people from the town gathered there, you just forget about all the other problems you have,” he said.
On Sunday night, he signed up for one-on-one counseling with Chaplain Dan Stephens later in the week. Kevin’s brother-in-law, David, a pastor in Chattanooga, Tenn., had been sowing Gospel seeds into Kevin’s life for several years and now he wanted help to wrestle down some spiritual issues.
Kevin continued to be impressed and encouraged by staff throughout the week.
“They make you feel loved and appreciated,” he said. “They make you feel like family from the beginning.”
On Tuesday, Kevin and Debbie went fishing with one of our staff guides, Chad King. Kevin had a great day, caught a 37-inch northern pike, and was moved as Chad shared why he felt called to serve this summer with Samaritan’s Purse in Alaska.
Later that evening, Kevin spent about three hours talking with Chaplain Dan. Kevin said he wanted to experience the same joy and peace that he saw in our Operation Heal Our Patriots staff, but he was struggling with baggage from his 2005-2006 deployment to Iraq, specifically severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Chaplain Dan shared the answers Kevin needed to hear, clearly explaining to him the Good News of new life and forgiveness in Christ.
“The most remarkable thing [Dan] said is that all of my sins and all the thoughts I planted into myself are wiped clean,” Kevin said, reflecting on the conversation.
He trusted Christ for salvation that night at 10:36—the former soldier remembers it to the minute.
Everything Just Changed
A new heart revolutionized Kevin’s attitude and outlook.
“I no longer think just about myself,” he said. “I don’t have the anger I used to have.”“Suddenly everything just changed,” Debbie said. “It was a good change.”
A marriage that was not in the best of shape when the Gaberts arrived began to blossom again.
“I bet I held hands with [Debbie] more in the short time [in Alaska] than in the past six years,” Kevin said.
“We had a lot of disagreements and didn’t know how to handle them,” Debbie said.
Not surprisingly, they found Chaplain Dan’s class on fighting fairly particularly helpful. Big issues became a lot smaller, Debbie said.
On Friday, just before Kevin’s baptism, the Gaberts renewed their vows in a ceremony with four other couples.
“It was like a new beginning for us,” Debbie said.
Although she was already a Christian before the retreat and had been praying for Kevin for years, she said she had not been actively following the Lord. She looks forward now to drawing closer to God together with Kevin.
It turns out that Kevin did love angling in Alaska—he caught 43 Arctic grayling in one day, plus that pike another day—but what and Who he found there through Operation Heal Our Patriots changed his life and marriage in a way no mere fishing trip could ever do.
This week (September 8-13) is the 15th and final week of the Operation Heal Our Patriots summer season. It is also the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Since those attacks, almost 5,300 U.S. military personnel have been killed in action and more than 51,000 have been wounded in action.
Praise God that dozens of military couples with injured spouses have found new beginnings in Christ this summer through Operation Heal Our Patriots. Please continue to pray for their healing and recovery.