Experiencing Renewal

August 9, 2012 • United States

A military couple reconnects with God and each other after spending a week at Samaritan Lodge Alaska

Army Staff Sergeant Charlie Pannell was on his third deployment to Iraq in September 2008. He was leading a routine patrol in Mosul on the first day of Ramadan—Islam’s most sacred month—when teenagers armed with grenades attacked his armored personnel carrier.The explosions and shrapnel badly wounded Charlie and four fellow soldiers.

“God was with me that day,” he said. “I lost a lot of blood. I came close to dying.”

Charlie’s ordeal was only beginning. Over the next 19 months, he went through 190 surgeries as doctors tried to save his left leg. Finally, a bone infection forced them to amputate.

He was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for heroism in combat. Fitted with a prosthetic leg, Charlie was physically ready to return to civilian life, but emotionally, he was still suffering from his traumatic injury.

When Charlie and his wife, Bethany, heard about Samaritan Lodge Alaska, they were intrigued.

The facility, located in Port Alsworth, is the foundation of Operation Heal Our Patriots, the Samaritan’s Purse ministry that focuses on sharing God’s healing love with wounded military heroes and their spouses. The weeklong retreat provides each couple with the opportunity to strengthen their marriage and deepen their spiritual walk with God, with daily devotions and lessons from the Bible, led by our camp chaplain.

Charlie had always wanted to visit Alaska, and the couple had never truly had a relaxing vacation together. Since they were married while Charlie was serving in the military, they didn’t even have a honeymoon. They agreed that a week away would be good for them.

The Pannells arrived at Samaritan Lodge Alaska ready to hike, fish, kayak, and enjoy the Alaska wilderness surrounding Lake Clark. At first they were afraid that they would be bored without any technology, but Charlie said he realized that not having those distractions gave him a lot more time to do things he needed to do, like spending time with other soldiers and his wife.

“It was great meeting other wounded soldiers and meeting people who have been through the same thing we have,” he said. “Now Bethany and I appreciate each other a whole lot more and understand each other a whole lot more. They made us realize some simple things we should have known about each other. The marriage enrichment was great.”

While at the lodge, the couple also talked about where they saw their spiritual life going. They discussed finding a church once they returned home to Anderson, S.C. With a 6-year-old daughter and a baby on the way, they knew this decision would be an important one.

“Before, I wasn’t a steady churchgoer,” Charlie said. “But now I think I have my mindset right. Before, I didn’t like going to church because I didn’t like being around a bunch of people, but now I’m enjoying it.”

Although the Pannells didn’t have a bad marriage before they visited Samaritan Lodge Alaska, they both agree that the experience enriched their relationship. They agree with each other more, and Charlie helps Bethany around the house. He said he now realizes how much he loves her.

Through the lodge, he’s also learned how to live with his injury.

“If you’re injured in combat, it’s something you never forget,” he said. “But the lodge makes you feel alive and like you have a purpose on this earth. It shows you that you can do stuff you used to love and that you are still the same person you used to be. It helps you to get back to your old self.”