Nearly 80 couples rededicated their marriages under God and dozens of participants placed their faith in Christ for the first time through the Operation Heal Our Patriots program this year.
Operation Heal Our Patriots, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, capped off its third summer season of ministering to wounded military veterans and their spouses by welcoming a contingent of active-duty Army Rangers to Alaska last week.
The Rangers were four among 10 couples who attended the 15th and final week-long session of marriage enrichment training at Samaritan Lodge in Port Alsworth, Alaska. Between June 1 and September 12, just shy of 150 couples were flown to our wilderness camp this year.
Rangers Encouraged by Rare Time Together with Their Spouses
Accustomed to long and trying periods of separation due to multiple deployments, soldiers from the elite 75th Ranger Regiment relished the invaluable time spent alongside their spouses.
Sergeant First Class Patrick Hartung, who survived IED blasts and shrapnel injuries in Iraq, went into the Army shortly after high school and has spent 11 years in the service. He and his wife Jennifer have endured 13 deployments—most of them at least for 110 days.
“It’s a marathon, it’s a grind,” Patrick said. “It’s really rough on spouses and marriages, because you get beaten down over time. This time together has just been awesome, from the welcome we received from the community when we landed, to the marriage classes, to the amazing outdoors here in Alaska.”
Jennifer, herself a former reservist, was thrilled that she and her husband were able to finally find some time together in a spiritually uplifting environment.
“Patrick rarely takes any time off, and when he does, he usually feels guilty about it, and beats himself up,” she said.
“It’s great that he understands now that he can’t always put me on the backburner.
“We’ve been shown such genuine kindness here. Everyone here at Operation Heal Our Patriots genuinely cares for you. They pay so much attention to the smallest details that makes you feel so very much appreciated.”
Staff Sergeant Kris Newville, another Ranger, has been through eight deployments in the past six and one half years. Added to the stress of separation was the news last November that his wife, Alexis, was diagnosed with stage three cancer.
“This has all been such a breath of fresh air for us,” Kris said. “The community is so tight-knit here and affirming. I’ve really enjoyed learning more about the Scriptures and how the chaplains have broken it down for us to understand more about how to apply our faith to life’s challenges.”
Alexis has been through two major surgeries and still has two more chemotherapy treatments left.
“We really needed just time away from thinking about cancer all the time,” she said. “Our time here at Operation Heal Our Patriots has just been amazing.”
Staff Sergeant Blake Clotfelter and his wife Heidi have been an Army couple for eight years. With 10 overseas deployments behind him in that timeframe, the Ranger has spent more time away from his wife than with her.
“We didn’t even have time for a honeymoon,” Heidi said. “This week in Alaska has just been so refreshing and rejuvenating.”
Blake, who came to know Christ as his Savior the day before he was married, suffered several minor injuries during his deployments, but believes God’s hand of protection has kept him from more serious harm. On one mission in Afghanistan he was asked if he would mind sitting out since their plane was one soldier over the limit. To his surprise, Blake said yes, and learned later that plane crashed, killing four soldiers and wounding others.
Fear over what can happen in battle is a constant source of tension and stress for the marriages of active-duty servicemen.
“Death stalks every soldier,” Operation Heal Our Patriots Chaplain Jim Fisher explained. “The wife knows that, the husband knows that, the children know that.”
15 Weeks of Marital Healing, Forgiveness Found in Christ
Chaplain Fisher believes the final week of the 2014 Operation Heal Our Patriots summer season continued a definitive trend. Four couples rededicated their marriages last week.
“The couples have been very intentional about working on their marriages,” Fisher said. “People are looking for hope, seeking reconciliation, and seeking solutions to the problems that accompany the marriages of wounded military husband and wives.
“So many of the injured veterans end up drifting after they are medically discharged from the service. They no longer have a role, they are no longer part of something bigger than themselves. What we offer at Operation Heal Our Patriots is a sense of belonging to something far greater, to the Kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin.”
Week 15 participants gather for a final photo opportunity. During the 2014 summer season, 56 participants received Christ as their Savior with 66 baptized in the cold, glacial waters of Lake Clark. In addition, 79 couples, more than half of those participating, renewed their marriage vows in special ceremonies.
Kevin LeBoeuf and his wife Britt, from upstate New York, and Pete Grandpre, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffers from PTSD, received Jesus as Lord and Savior in the final week this year.
“We were both raised in a religious environment with catechism, baptism, and confirmation, but Chaplain Dan Stephens explained to us exactly what we needed to do to know Jesus Christ,” the former Army sergeant LeBoeuf said.
“We’re looking forward to applying our faith to everyday life now, and teaching our son what it means to be a Christian. We are thrilled.”