Military marriages bolstered, burdens laid at the foot of the Cross during Week 11 of Operation Heal Our Patriots
Retired Army Sergeant Scott Blanchett was stunned twice last week by the water of Lake Clark at Samaritan Lodge Alaska.
“I had never jumped into water that cold,” Scott said, referring to the Polar Plunge on Thursday when staff and couples jump into the shockingly cold lake water.
On Friday, however, the water of Lake Clark took on a different meaning when he walked into it with Chaplains Jim Fisher and Dan Stephens.
“There was some baggage I needed to unload,” Scott said. “I spoke with the chaplains and it really opened my eyes. Things began to make sense. I realized it’s time, I’m going to live for Christ, and I’m going to be baptized. I got baptized, and it was an awesome thing.”
Scott was one of six people who were baptized during Week 11 of Operation Heal Our Patriots, the Samaritan’s Purse marriage enrichment program for combat-wounded veterans and their spouses that begins with a week-long marriage enrichment experience at the edge of the Alaska wilderness. Four participants, including Scott, received Christ as their Lord and Savior, and eight of the 10 participating couples rededicated their marriages to God.
The Burden of War
Like all of the participants who spend a week at Samaritan Lodge Alaska through Operation Heal Our Patriots, Scott and his wife Denise brought not only typical relationship tensions with them but also ones specific to war injuries. A wounded spouse can become a wounded couple.
“We still talked, but not like husband and wife. Just more like friends,” Denise said. “We fought demons.”
Over the course of three deployments to Iraq from 2006-2010, Scott lost 13 friends and was himself wounded multiple times by rocket attacks and IEDs. At the time he just soldiered on as a good infantryman.
“In my unit it was just business as usual. We expected things to happen,” says Scott. “You just have to get on with the mission.”
This is the common refrain of so many battle-hardened veterans, but the suck-it-up-buttercup philosophy begins to break down upon returning to civilian life—especially when these warriors have families who need them.
“It’s had a big impact on how I do everyday things,” Scott said. “Denise and I had talked about it, that things had bothered me. She knew things weren’t right.”
The man Denise described before the war as fun-loving and gregarious had become withdrawn, quiet, and angry.
“When I came back after that last deployment, everything was building up,”Scott said. “Something would hit me and I would become real quiet. I’d sit there and snap the pencils or pens I was holding. I’d snap a clip board. I couldn’t sleep without medication.”
Scott also wouldn’t talk to anybody about it.
“I told him I was here whenever he was ready to talk,” Denise said. “Sometimes I’d look at him and think ‘who are you?’ He was a totally different man.”
Who Are You?
Scott and Denise had been on other retreats designed for veterans, but they said their time at Samaritan Lodge was different. Talking openly with other veterans and hearing the chaplains address issues in honest and straightforward ways allowed Scott to be honest with himself.
“He looked at me and said ‘I’ve never heard it talked like that before. I didn’t think of it like that,’” says Denise.
Denise says she had a bucket list: go to Alaska, fly an airplane, and, more recently, see her husband become a follower of Christ. And as the Blanchetts flew into Port Alsworth and later were able to co-pilot one of our aircraft, they didn’t imagine their hearts would also skip a beat as God transformed Scott into a new man.
“I think when we get back people are going to say ‘Who are you? Scott? No way,’” Denise said. “He just seems totally different now.”
Scott emphasized that he was able to unburden himself with a lot he’d been keeping in.
“Chaplain Jim gave us an exercise: Write something you’ve been holding onto on this 3 x 5 card and put it in the bonfire. You can consider it unloaded. Leave it in Alaska. Don’t take it home with you,” Scott recalled. “There was a lot of guilt, shame, and sadness I had been holding onto. I went and put it in the fire and then went and wrote down on the clipboard that I wanted to be baptized.”
There’s a small pile of ash somewhere in Alaska that used to be a handwritten note from Scott Blanchett. It doesn’t matter what it said, because it’s staying where it is—at Samaritan Lodge Alaska—where Scott went to leave the past behind.
Please pray for Week 11 couples as they integrate back into everyday life. Pray that they will rely on God each day for strength. Pray also for the coming week’s couples as they arrive at Samaritan Lodge Alaska and begin their week of marriage enrichment.