God’s Healing Love Marks Ministry to Military Couples
Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham and his wife, Jane, at left, greet Staff Sergeant Ken Patterson, USA (Ret.). Ken, a double amputee wounded in Afghanistan in 2010, enjoyed hiking, fishing, and kayaking along with his wife, Jessica, at far right.
Under the shadow of Tanalian Mountain, our staff and residents of Port Alsworth, Alaska, welcome each couple as they arrive for their Operation Heal Our Patriots experience. During the retreat, Staff Sergeant Arthur Coleman, USA (Ret.), and his wife, Tramika, said they learned important tools for handling marital conflict.
Surrounded by beauty, military couples enjoy views of Hardenburg Bay every day while in Alaska.
Cozy cabins named after Alaskan wildlife provide a relaxing space for couples to unwind. This cabin, Ptarmigan, gets its moniker from Alaska’s state bird.
Led by guide Chad King, couples take a hike to Tanalian Falls. At the falls, they can fish, take a nap, or just enjoy the sounds and views.
Sergeant Charles Caswell, USA (Ret.), and his wife, Joey, take a break on their hike to and from Tanalian Falls. Charles suffers with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his 2005 deployment to Iraq. “Two years ago we would never have done this. We would have stayed in the house,” Charles said. “We’ve come a long ways,” Joey followed up.
Captain Matt Stuhler, USMC, and his wife, Kristina, had a great time once they reached Tanalian Falls. After serving two deployments to Afghanistan, Matt now battles with TBI and PTSD. “Thanks for showing us there’s a Christ-centered organization out there . . . for war fighters and their spouses,” he said at the close of the week.
During Week 9, several Operation Heal Our Patriots couples got a chance to watch two 800-pound Alaskan brown bears fish in Brooks River at world-famous Katmai National Park
Army Sergeant Cale Darling, USA (Ret.), and his wife, Kathleen, are all smiles as they kayak during their first morning in Alaska. Cale served two combat deployments in Afghanistan before suffering a nearly fatal head injury in a tragic car accident on February 10, 2010.
Staff Sergeant Scott Botts, USMC (Ret.), and his wife, Theresa, had fun pike fishing with Chaplain Jim Fisher (Captain, USN, Ret.). Jim and Scott are both veterans of Operation Desert Storm; they also served post 9/11, in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. Theresa said Operation Heal Our Patriots allowed she and Scott “to let the rest go and focus on God and each other.”
Marine veteran Steven Cheek, 27, served five combat deployments—three in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. He’s a full-time student now and wants to become a pastor. “It’s been amazing. Most people will not see something like this in their lifetime,” he said of his time in Alaska.
Arthur and Tramika Coleman pose with their northern pike and guide Carlin Toews. Arthur was shot five times on Easter Sunday 2004 in Iraq. “I haven’t seen another organization that could put something together (like this) that has meaning and substance,” Arthur said.
Sharing stories and information with each other is one important aspect of the week for participants. “We love it because we’re around people who understand,” said Joey Caswell.
Biblically-based marriage resiliency classes led by retired military chaplains offer couples tools to improve their relationship.
Matt and Kristina Stuhler, flanked by Chaplain Dan Stephens, right, and his wife, Linda, at left, share some good news with staff. Matt rededicated his life to the Lord and Kristina trusted Christ for salvation. At the end of the week, Kristina was baptized in the chilly waters of Lake Clark. “I know I have Jesus in my life,” Kristina said. “Thank you for being that conduit to bring Him to me.”
Arthur and Tramika Coleman left Alaska encouraged and rededicated to their faith in Christ.
Ken Patterson spends precious time with Samuel Smith, 8, a resident of Port Alsworth. Ken loves basketball. Sam likes to climb trees. “It’s super encouraging for him [Sam] to see these strong men. It’s such an encouragement for our family,” said Sonnet Smith, Sam’s mother.
Before couples depart, Operation Heal Our Patriots staff members present them a Bible and take the time to pray for each of them.