Military Couples Begin New Chapter in Alaska

August 26, 2020 • United States
Army Staff Sergeant Josh Abbatoye and his wife Kyli enjoyed an unforgettable experience in the Alaskan wilderness.
Army Staff Sergeant Josh Abbatoye and his wife Kyli enjoyed unforgettable experiences in the Alaskan wilderness.

Veteran couple finds “clean slate” in relationship with Christ, joins those rededicating their marriages during Operation Heal Our Patriots.

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Terror, violence, and death weren’t supposed to follow him home.

Army Staff Sergeant Josh Abbatoye thought he’d left war on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout multiple deployments in a 17-year military career he’d survived eight traumatic brain injuries, five improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and a rocket-propelled grenade that left shrapnel stuck in his body.

Kyli and Josh Abbatoye enjoyed bear viewing in Katmai National Park.

Kyli and Josh Abbatoye enjoyed bear viewing in Katmai National Park.

After all that, what finally sent him over the edge was when tragedy showed up at his front door.

“What really messed me up was April 2, 2014—the shooting on Fort Hood. I was in the unit. One of my buddies died,” Josh said.

Josh’s life then quickly spiraled out of control. “I went to the bottle,” he said.

It was around this time that Josh met Kyli, who would soon become his wife. “She found me in a very deep dark hole—and helped me get out of it.”

Moving Forward Together

Josh and Kyli are among the military couples who have participated this summer in Operation Heal Our Patriots, the Samaritan’s Purse program for veterans wounded or injured after 9/11 and their spouses. Although they’ve grown in their relationship since they wed six years ago, the couple applied for the program because they were looking for a shared experience that would help strengthen their marriage.

“We had tears in our eyes when we got the call that we were going to Alaska,” Kyli said. “We’ve never done a trip together.”

  • Jane Austin Graham greets Matt Dunn at Samaritan Lodge Alaska.
    Jane Austin Graham greets Matt Dunn at Samaritan Lodge Alaska.

Kyli enjoyed experiences at Samaritan Lodge Alaska that she never thought she’d have the confidence to try, such as fly fishing, hiking, riding in a float plane, and even taking the polar plunge on Wednesday evening when couples and staff jump into the cold waters of Lake Clark.

“Step out of your comfort zone,” Kyli said, and “watch how it makes your marriage grow.”

One of the highlights of their Alaskan adventure was that the couple did everything together. “We needed this,” Josh said. “My expectations are just blown away.”

The Abbatoyes experienced the greatest transformation of all when they committed their lives to Jesus Christ while at the lodge and were both baptized at the end of the week.

“The way I grew up, you didn’t go to church or talk about God,” Kyli said. “This is a clean slate for me. I can leave behind all the heavy stuff I’ve been carrying and anything negative that’s happened in the past.”

Both Josh and Kyli were baptized at the end of the week.

Both Josh and Kyli were baptized at the end of the week.

Josh and Kyli also renewed their marriage vows in a special ceremony led by our chaplains.
“This is a new chapter in our lives; we’re renewed,” Josh said. “And we’re doing it together.”

As they carry home tools they learned during the Bible-based marriage classes, and with Jesus Christ at the center of their relationship, the Abbatoyes are even better positioned to continue serving together in the unique business they started a few years ago. Josh and Kyli run a crime scene cleanup company in Texas in order to relieve family and loved ones from the burden of this task.

With Kyli’s background as a psychiatric and neurosurgery nurse, and Josh’s military experience as a chemical specialist, the couple realized they were equipped to serve grieving families in a niche role that few others are able to provide.

“This is a new chapter in our lives.”

“These people are living the worst day of their lives,” Kyli said. “No one should have to go through that alone. We’ll do anything we can to help. They know they can call us day or night.”

The aftermath of walking alongside families experiencing trauma sometimes wears heavy on Josh and Kylie. Yet, they were refreshed and encouraged in Alaska and learned more about how to communicate and support each another, which will help them in their business.

“I learned I can’t bottle [my emotions] up. I need to share the burden,” Josh explained.

Josh also said that after just one week at Samaritan Lodge Alaska his wife seems to be carrying a much lighter load. “I can already see a different look in her eyes and smile.”

Committed to Christ and Each Other

Army Specialist Matt Dunn and his wife Nicole participated in Operation Heal Our Patriots the same week as the Abbatoyes and also recommitted their marriage to God.

Nicole shows off her largest catch of the day.

Nicole shows off her largest catch of the day.

Nicole met Matt a few years after he finished his military career, which included deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. One of Matt’s best friends died in Iraq due to an IED. During that same incident, Matt injured his right arm and that has led to neuropathy and made it painful to move his neck. He is also working through post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety.

“I wanted to come to get a better connection with my wife and to bring more of Christ into our relationship and marriage,” Matt said in Alaska. “My parents are divorced, and I’ve gone through divorce, and I don’t want to go through it a second time.”

This is also Nicole’s second marriage, and like Matt, she’s committed to their relationship. “When we first got together we knew we wanted to make our marriage work,” she said.

Always in search of encouragement and marriage-strengthening resources, the Dunns were bolstered by what they learned through Operation Heal Our Patriots. “We could feel ourselves drifting apart. We needed this at this time,” Nicole said.

Matt and Nicole, who both had a relationship with Christ coming into their week at Samaritan Lodge, were grateful for the time to deepen their bond to Him and to reconnect with each other.

“Renewing our vows is something we’ve been wanting to do,” Nicole said. “It’s a new beginning and a new chapter in our lives and our marriage.”

Please pray for the military couples who will join us in Alaska over the last few weeks of this Operation Heal Our Patriots summer season. Pray for those who have already returned home, that they would continue growing in their relationship with God and strengthening their marriages and families.

SUPPORT
Bless the Marriage of a Military Couple Operation Heal Our Patriots helps military couples build a strong spiritual foundation during a week of Biblically based workshops, relationship-building wilderness activities, and individual care by our retired military chaplains. We offer all this free of charge to these American heroes as a token of our appreciation for their service and sacrifice. Your gift will help us cover the costs—including transportation, lodging, activities, and long-term aftercare—so that we can help them find hope in the Lord.

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