Operation Heal Our Patriots participants gather in North Carolina for a "family reunion"
Nearly 130 military couples gathered this past weekend, February 28-March 2, for the second annual Operation Heal Our Patriots reunion held at The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove near Asheville, N.C.Help Bring Healing to Wounded PatriotsThe couples gained more tools to strengthen their marriages, heard the Gospel and received Christian encouragement, and enjoyed connecting with friends old and new.
All couples previously had attended marriage retreats in Port Alsworth, Alaska, through Operation Heal Our Patriots, the Samaritan’s Purse project that shares God’s healing love with military couples who have had a spouse wounded or injured in combat or combat-related activities post-9/11. The reunion is part of the project’s ongoing aftercare program.
“Operation Heal Our Patriots is a family. Part of what we’re doing here is having a family reunion,” said Pastor Pat Fleming, aftercare manager. “We live the weekend as a family and just learn how to love each other more and learn how to love Christ deeper.”
Retired Lieutenant General Jerry Boykin spoke on Saturday night and commended the program for its commitment to keep up with couples for the long-term.“What’s unique about this [Operation Heal Our Patriots] is that there’s follow-up. It’s not a one-time affair,” he said. “This is a program that doesn’t just take you out and show you a good time and allow everybody to go home and feel good about themselves. This program is about you. It’s not about the people here; it’s not about the staff here; it’s not about Franklin Graham. That’s what I appreciate so much about this program.”
Seeing the Family Again
Claudia Russi and her husband, retired Marine Corporal Esteban Russi, whose pelvis was shattered in an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2009, were glad to reconnect with staff and friends at the reunion.“We were only in Alaska for a week, but it feels like family,” Claudia said. “Everybody that we came into contact with, from the person that went to the airport to pick us up, to the chaplains, to the people who served our plates, everyone was amazing.”
Retired Army Sergeant First Class Eric Moriarty and his wife, Sara, were also among those who returned for the reunion.
“The reunion means a lot,” Eric said. “We had a really good group of people [in Alaska.]. It’s nice to see them.”
Eric lost his left leg below the knee following a training accident in 2006. After developing an infection during a subsequent deployment to Afghanistan in 2009, the leg had to be amputated. He and Sara heard about Operation Heal Our Patriots from a couple who attended an Alaska retreat in 2012. Eric and Sara were excited to attend a 2013 retreat, and Eric said it helped their marriage by revealing causes of conflicts.
Over the weekend, nine couples rededicated their marriages in a ceremony led by Chaplain Jim Fisher.“We know because of God, because of Christ, there is transformation,” he said. “Transformation is what God does for us and what gives us hope for our marriage.”
Retired Army Staff Sergeant Doug Cox and his wife, Amiee, were among the couples that renewed their vows. Amiee was a believer before their 2013 Alaska retreat, but Doug received Christ as Savior and was baptized this summer in Port Alsworth.“Operation Heal Our Patriots is probably the blessing that might have even saved us [our marriage]. We were going through some tough times,” Amiee said.
The Coxes and their three children are now praying together as a family, with Doug serving as more of the spiritual leader that Amiee had been hoping and praying for years he’d become.
“I am 100 percent committed to God and, through Him, 100 percent committed to you,” Doug told Amiee.