A military couple learns skills for understanding each other and improving their marriage
During Week 13 of the Operation Heal Our Patriots summer season, Sergeant Bert and Sam Blevins rededicated their marriage in front of newfound friends. In November, they will celebrate their 10-year anniversary, and this ceremony marked a fresh start.
Bert and Sam have known each other since she was 10 years old. They eloped when she was 19.Help Bring Healing to Wounded Patriots
Bert had plans for a career in the Marines, and four months after their wedding, he was sent on his first deployment to Iraq. At the time, Sam was in college. She worried every day about his safety, but she was able to stay busy with schoolwork to keep her mind off of it.
Her husband returned healthy, but a year later, he was sent back to Iraq for a second deployment. That time, it was different. The soldiers encountered improvised explosive devices and rockets nearly every day.
“The main event was a firefight; it was at nighttime,” Bert said. “They were shooting rockets. After three rockets back-to-back, my ears were ringing, I was having a hard time focusing and stuff. That’s when they think I sustained my TBI (traumatic brain injury).”
While he was gone, Sam gave birth to twins. They were 10 weeks old when Bert finally returned. But he wasn’t the same person.
“After the newness of the kids wore off, he became very withdrawn, not interested in anything and very angry,” Sam said. “ It was a lot to deal with, having two new babies and him not seeming to want to be involved.”Sam said there wasn’t a lot of awareness about TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the time. She knew that he had changed, but she didn’t know what was wrong with him.
Two years later, he was sent on deployment again. While he was gone, Sam struggled to raise 2-year-old twins on her own. His homecoming didn’t make life easier.
“I just thought he was a jerk,” she said. “I was like, ‘So you went into this and you came back this mean person.’ I’ve known him since I was 10, so I knew it wasn’t the Bert I know. It was really rough. Divorce was brought up a lot.”
Around the same time, Bert began training for another deployment. During the training, his PTSD affected his ability to perform. He realized that both his marriage and his career were in jeopardy. Four years after his injury, he decided to seek treatment.
Since starting treatment, Bert has gone on one humanitarian deployment, to Japan in 2011, and is now medically retired. He continues to struggle with his injuries.
“I know a lot of people think either PTSD is made up, or they think that [people who have it are] crazy, and they really aren’t,” Sam said. “There’s just things that they have to deal with that have caused depression and anxiety.”
Bert and Sam first applied to Operation Heal Our Patriots, a program of Samaritan’s Purse for veterans wounded after 9/11, in 2013. They were accepted this summer for a week of marriage enrichment and Alaskan exploration.
For Sam, it felt like the honeymoon they never had.
“[We’re] trying to figure out how to find a new normal for us,” she said. “I feel refreshed. We’ve worked through some serious issues in our marriage, and now’s the time for a new start. I think my relationship with God has gotten closer.”
Along with rededicating their marriage, Bert decided he also wanted to renew his relationship with God by being baptized. As the couple returned home, they hoped to use the communication tools they learned in classes at the camp to understand each other better.
“I have tools to take home for communication with him,” Sam said. “I feel like we’ve become a lot closer.”