Week 1 of Operation Heal Our Patriots brought healing to an Army couple and other military marriagesThe first week of Operation Heal Our Patriots 2016 began with a Memorial Day ceremony in which combat-wounded veterans, their spouses, and our retired military chaplains each remembered the name of a deceased service member important to them. After the names were called out, the American flag was raised over Samaritan Lodge Alaska and then lowered to half-staff.
Some of the veterans remembered brothers-in-arms who were killed in attacks during which they themselves were wounded. Some thought of close friends killed in unrelated attacks. Some thought of those who died in old age, having served in wars long over.
Memorial Day is for honoring the dead. After a brief and right pause to remember, though, the business of the week turned to bringing healing to the hearts and marriages of the living.
Operation Heal Our Patriots, a Samaritan’s Purse project aimed at strengthening the marriages of service members wounded post-9/11, brings military couples to Alaska for a week of Biblically based marriage enrichment. Husbands and wives confront critical issues in daily classes led by retired military chaplains and also enjoy a variety of wilderness activities together.
Fresh Starts for Military Couples
Week 1 of this year’s season culminated on Friday, June 3, with a forward-looking service. Seven couples participated in a marriage rededication ceremony, and one former soldier, Staff Sergeant Ken Colson, was baptized. It was a day for getting unstuck, for burying the past and forging ahead.
Ken served in the Army from 1996-2012, deployed three times to Iraq, and deals with a number of injuries—most prominently traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He survived a number of blasts in Iraq, including a mortar attack in Balad that left a softball-sized shrapnel hole in his living trailer. The opening was located just two inches above his head. He was lying down on his cot at the time of the blast, so had he been sitting up he almost certainly would have died.
Ken and his wife Erin, who served in the Army from 1996-2004, were Christians before coming to Alaska, but they admitted that they had not been following the Lord closely for many years. Their marriage was struggling—they felt like roommates more than a husband-and-wife duo.
The marriage classes they took helped them refocus on each other and talk through troublesome issues. “It opened lines of communication that were long lost,” Ken said. The couple want to take home “everything [they] learned here and practice it,” he said.
After spiritual counseling with Chaplain Dan Stephens and his wife Linda, the Colsons together recommitted their lives to Christ early in the week. They had not been following the Lord closely for more than a decade.
“We lost our way on our own and together,” Erin said.
Ken had never been baptized, so he decided Friday would be the day.Referring to the week in general and specifically to his baptism and recommitment, Ken said: “It gave me closure to my past and opened up a future for me to walk in the light of the Lord.”
The couple also participated in the chaplain-led marriage rededication on Friday. Along with six other couples, they publicly recommitted themselves to loving each other well and resolved to build their lives and family on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ and His Word.
“[Before coming to Alaska] we were broken individually and as a couple,” Erin said. “I’m happy to say we are walking away healed individually and as a couple.”After Ken and Erin said their vows and exchanged a kiss, Chaplain Jim Fisher noted a tear in Ken’s eye—noteworthy for a three-time veteran of combat in Iraq.
“When you see a tear fall from the eye of the guy, you know that’s commitment,” the chaplain told the crowd of fellow couples and our staff. “You didn’t want me to say that, did you?” he followed up, turning to Ken.
“It’s all right,” Ken said, happy to be called out for getting emotional on such a special day.
Please pray for Week 1 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.