Couples arrive for Week 9 at Samaritan Lodge Alaska with troubled pasts and leave with futures filled with hope
Black Friday 2010 was a dark Friday for Kayla Martinez when she received a phone call from a number she didn’t recognize. On the other end was her husband, Marine Sergeant Gabe Martinez, calling on a satellite phone from somewhere in Afghanistan. He told her in a weak and raspy voice that something had happened.
When they’d talked just the day before, he’d joked morbidly.
“You’re going to feel real bad when I get blown up tomorrow,” he’d told Kayla on an answer machine at her parents’ house.
Amid the holiday festivities, no one had heard the call. She finally picked up the phone while Gabe was leaving his message, not knowing how prophetic his words would be.
Gabe and Kayla had married only a few months before Gabe left for Afghanistan. It was his second deployment, and amid the busyness of getting ready to ship out, the newlyweds only had what amounted to a few weeks to enjoy their new life together.
Though Gabe had a hazardous job in an increasingly volatile country, neither of them thought it would alter their plans forever.
“I was a combat engineer, and I basically was acting as an [Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician] when the EODs weren’t there,” said Gabe. “My job was to search for IEDs, and I was finding them pretty regularly.”
As a member of the 5th Marines battalion, Gabe was used to being in harm’s way, but he knew something was different when, upon his arrival, he’d heard that seven marines had died that day.
“When it was all said and done, our battalion had experienced more casualties than in any other conflict since the Vietnam War,” he said.
But on the day that would change his life forever, Thanksgiving Day 2010, Gabe was only thinking of the job he had to do.
Their three-vehicle convoy was rolling cautiously through the towns and countryside of Afghanistan with a ground-penetrating radar showing them possible threats buried in the roads. But the radar had malfunctioned, so Gabe and the other combat engineers were left searching out threats using metal detectors, the naked eye, and their bare hands.
That’s when it happened. An improvised explosive device struck, destroying the second vehicle in their convoy and killing the Marines inside.
Gabe and the others dismounted and sprang into action checking for secondary threats.
“One guy pointed out an area of undisturbed earth,” Gabe recounted, remembering this as a telltale sign of danger. He walked over, first using the metal detector and then using his hands.
Then … boom. He’d triggered a 20-pound improvised explosive device.
“I remember it launched me high enough to see the tops of the vehicles,” Gabe said. “When I woke up on the ground there was shrapnel through my helmet in my forehead, one leg was lying over there, one leg was on my chest.”
When Kayla picked up the phone the day after Thanksgiving, she thought she was listening to Gabe’s voice for the last time.
“I thought that’s why they’d let him call me,” she said. “He’d told me he’d lost both legs, but I thought he was actually calling to say goodbye.”
Within a few days, they reunited alongside Gabe’s family in a military hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. Soon after, Kayla became the caregiver for her new husband—going to doctors’ appointments, dressing him, bathing him, and changing the dressings on his wounds.
Gabe said they really started their marriage in a hospital.
“The first time we ever really lived together was in a hospital room,” he said.
Gabe’s injuries and recovery became the immediate and constant focus of their relationship, and it almost became their undoing.
In the midst of that tumultuous time, they celebrated the birth of their first child, a daughter, but Gabe spiraled emotionally downward as he shut people out of his life, including Kayla.
“I felt like I didn’t really have any purpose or direction anymore,” he said. “I had convinced myself that I didn’t love her anymore. I would say things like ‘The only people who understand me are dead.’ I was doing drugs. I was unfaithful to her.”
At one point he contemplated suicide. Later he decided to divorce her to protect her from himself.
“I had divorce papers drawn up on her behalf,” Gabe said. “One of the best days of my life was when I ripped up those divorce papers. By the grace of God, she stayed with me.”
That was more than three years ago, but when Gabe heard about Operation Heal Our Patriots, he knew their marriage needed a fresh start.
“We’re continuing to mend a lot of things,” Gabe said. “Our relationship with God isn’t where it should be, and we’re aware of all that. When we heard about Operation Heal Our Patriots, I signed up before I even told her about it. I saw a picture of a couple renewing their vows, and to me that was a chance for me to show her what she means to me.”
Joining seven other couples, Gabe and Kayla renewed their wedding vows last week. And though longtime Christians, the couple was also baptized for the first time. Seven other people were baptized in Lake Clark last week, and three participants accepted Jesus Christ as Savior.
Gabe and Kayla were also able to celebrate another miracle they’d discovered shortly before coming to Alaska.
“They told me I’d had a miscarriage,” Kayla said. “But when I went in for a final ultrasound to confirm it, the technician was so confused. ‘What are we doing here? This baby is alive.’”
They’d found the strong, distinct beating of their baby’s heart.
Please pray for Week 9 couples as they integrate back into everyday life. Pray that they will rely on God each day for strength. Pray also for the coming weeks’ couples as they arrive at Samaritan Lodge Alaska and begin their week of marriage enrichment.