Operation Heal Our Patriots

Hope for the Journey

Dear Friend,

The wounded veterans who participate in Operation Heal Our Patriots tell us some heartbreaking stories. After multiple combat deployments, many return home with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other physical and emotional wounds.

Franklin Graham

All of the couples who come to our Samaritan Lodge Alaska are in fragile marriages and are often on the verge of divorce. Operation Heal Our Patriots is designed to help strengthen their marriages through a series of wilderness adventures, marriage enrichment activities, and Biblically based counseling so that these heroes and their spouses can find spiritual and emotional healing through the Lord Jesus Christ.

As couples refresh themselves by kayaking, bear watching, hiking, and fishing, our chaplains and staff help them discover God's plan for their lives. Every week, we rejoice as many participants accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, are baptized in Lake Clark, and renew their wedding vows.

But it doesn't stop there. Samaritan's Purse serves these couples long after they leave Alaska. Our chaplains maintain contact with them, organize follow-up activities, and help connect them with local churches and Christian mentors.

Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken Ecclesiastes 4:12.

We would be grateful for your prayers as we continue to minister to these couples in Jesus Name. May God bless you.


Franklin Graham

President, Samaritan's Purse

Transforming Lives in Alaska

We praise God for His faithfulness to transform hearts, lives, and marriages last summer during Operation Heal Our Patriots. Throughout our 17-week season, 164 military couples were welcomed to Samaritan Lodge Alaska where they participated in chaplain-led, Biblically based marriage classes and wilderness excursions.

All the activities at our lodge in Alaska are designed to strengthen marriages, to develop friendships among military couples, and, most important, to point participants toward the peace and salvation found only in the Lord Jesus Christ. In 2022, 96 individuals placed their faith in Christ, 95 were baptized in Lake Clark, and 86 couples recommitted their marriages to God.

We are committed to walking alongside military couples for life as they start down a new road filled with healing and hope.

Finding Their Way From the Wilderness

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5–6

DB Bennett knelt in his waders in the Kijik River, a half-hour by floatplane from Samaritan Lodge Alaska. Kneeling in the glacier-fed waters was like placing his knee in an ice bath.

DB and Cree Bennett

“It's like cryotherapy,” joked the Navy petty officer third class whose job meant deployments to Afghanistan with a Marine battalion. That required shouldering an 80-pound pack and his full medical kit—everything needed to keep “my Marines” alive. All the wear and tear meant his legs tended to ache.

DB and his wife, Cree, were one of 10 couples attending marriage enrichment classes that week in July 2022, sharing meals with other couples and going on excursions into the vast wilderness areas.

The Kijik River float is just one of the adventures. It carries couples through the river's center, up along the tundra, and down again to fishing areas. Moose sometimes cross the river. Eagles often glide quietly overhead.

These experiences are an integral part of the work of the Operation Heal Our Patriots program. Throughout the week, couples kayak, hike to waterfalls, watch grizzlies feed on salmon, fish in the deep waters of Lake Clark, or land in floatplanes in places like the quiet Kijik, where the fog was starting to lift as DB and Cree rested near the shore.

A lot of couples come to Alaska with their marriages still shrouded in the fog of war as veterans relive old memories and respond to phantoms of their combat past. Many veterans, and their spouses too, struggle with how to live outside the military.

“I miss the brotherly love and the camaraderie,” DB said. There are things they experienced that still amaze them. DB describes his first time watching a bomb level an enemy compound. “They said ‘Keep your mouth open [to equalize the pressure] and wait for it.’ ”

In the wilderness, though, mouths gape in awe, new memories are forged, and new family-like connections are made. The beauty of God's creation helps bring couples together and to draw their attention to Him.

Later that week, DB and Cree decided to recommit their marriage to God in a special ceremony at Samaritan Lodge and to leave their many burdens behind them in Alaska. “There are things about my combat experience I’ve shared with Cree this week that I’ve never told anyone,” DB said. “I've tried to hold it all in to be strong for my family. But this place has humbled me. God has humbled me and He's strengthened our marriage in ways I couldn't have believed.”

Veterans and spouses enjoy fly fishing in the Kijik River.
Veterans and spouses enjoy fly fishing in the Kijik River.

Eric & Liz Stacy

Standing waist-deep in chilly water just downstream from Tanalian Falls, Eric Stacy had hooked a large Arctic grayling, one of the most beautiful freshwater fish in Alaska.

He was reeling in this prize one moment… and the next he watched it swim away with the lure in its mouth.

After the grayling escaped, Eric did something he hadn't done in a long time—he prayed: “Lord, if You're listening to me, let me catch that fish again, because I don't want it to suffer with that hook in its mouth. Just give me a sign that You're listening.”

Eric had witnessed more than his share of suffering when he was deployed, and the pain didn't end when he returned home. It seemed Eric's entire life was defined by suffering, and he couldn't bear to cause pain to anyone or anything—even a fish. He cast his line again, and less than a minute later, he reeled in the same grayling he had caught earlier. The first hook was still in its mouth.

Each week couples jump into the frigid Lake Clark waters for the polar plunge.

“Catching that fish again confirmed to me that God was there and that He loved me,” Eric said. It was astonishing to Eric that the Lord was willing to answer a “tiny” but heartfelt prayer that to many would seem silly. But for Eric it was Philippians 4:6–7 come to life: Let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Colorful rocks are fun finds along the beach shore.

Later in the week, Eric committed his life to Christ and was baptized. “I am truly born again,” Eric said following his baptism.

A safe place to heal marriages

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Matthew 22:37

Veterans often return from war with both visible and invisible injuries. These battle wounds threaten to destroy the marriages of veterans and their spouses, who have made tremendous sacrifices to defend freedom in this country.

Military couples often share with our chaplains that Operation Heal Our Patriots is their last attempt to save their marriage and bring healing to their relationship. Many feel defeated and alone in their struggles.

In Alaska, couples participate in chaplain-led, Biblically based marriage enrichment classes that offer tools to help fortify their marriages. Class topics include reconciliation and forgiveness, communication, and resolving conflict.

Tony and Erica Gant

“The tools they give you lay the foundation for your marriage,” said Tony Gantt. “This is the best opportunity you will have to get the tools you need to sharpen your marriage.”

The couple came to Alaska desperately seeking help to rescue their marriage. Erica said she experienced renewal and hope for the future. “There was no judgment,” Erica said. “It's a safe place.”

Couples also have the opportunity to meet with our veteran military chaplains for private Christ-focused counseling. Many are able to share very personal struggles for the first time and, in turn, finally start the healing process.

“The chaplains are phenomenal. They understand what the injured service member is going through as well as the spouse,” said Kelli Spaulding. “They knew exactly what I needed to hear.”

Kelli and her husband, Army Master Sergeant Michael Spaulding, left Alaska refreshed and ready to commit themselves to making their marriage stronger than ever. “We will be deliberate in making changes when we go home,” Kelli said. “We want to be intentional in using the tools they've given us. Our marriage is worth it.”

We are thankful for God's faithfulness in restoring the marriages of so many military couples through Operation Heal Our Patriots over the last 11 years.

Sean and Brandy Karpf

“This is what we needed,” said Brandy Karpf, who came to Alaska with her husband, Sean. “Coming to Operation Heal Our Patriots has given us a new lease on marriage.”

Now the Karpfs' marriage is on the right track. “I know things will be different because of the tools we've been given and the connections we've made with other couples,” Brandy said.

Hiking to Tanalian Falls is a special time for couples to bond and enjoy time together.
Hiking to Tanalian Falls is a special time for couples to bond and enjoy time together.
JT and Caroline Parris

JT & Caroline Parris

Marine Corporal JT Parris and his wife, Caroline, have walked through their share of hard times. JT deployed three times, with his first deployment lasting the entire first year of their marriage. Those deployments left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. After five years in the Marines, JT joined the police force, which came with its own mental trials.

JT and Caroline applied to Operation Heal Our Patriots because they wanted help navigating the choppy waters of post-military life and marriage. They hoped the program would strengthen their relationship.

This season, 86 couples renewed their marriage vows in special ceremonies at the end of each week.
This season, 86 couples renewed their marriage vows in special ceremonies at the end of each week.

“This experience most definitely saved my marriage,” JT said. “Faith in God is the only thing I've found that gives me peace. It will be the cornerstone of my family and my marriage.”

JT and Caroline both rededicated their lives to Jesus Christ in Alaska. Learning how to work through past experiences will be easier now that they are committed to looking to God for wisdom and guidance in their marriage.

Cissie Graham Lynch  joins the celebration after a baptism service at Samaritan Lodge Alaska.
Cissie Graham Lynch joins the celebration after a baptism service at Samaritan Lodge Alaska.

They also participated in the marriage vow renewal ceremony because they want their relationship to thrive, and they're excited about building their marriage on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

“This week has been a new beginning,” Caroline said. “A new beginning for our marriage and our family.”

Journeying In Unity with Jesus Christ

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

The military couples who come to Samaritan Lodge Alaska arrive with heavy burdens, broken hearts, and shattered lives. The traumatic events experienced on the battlefield deeply affect not only the veterans but their spouses as well, who often are thrown into the role of caregiver.

After their military service, veterans frequently lose their sense of purpose. Over the years that follow, stress mounts and brings their lives and marriages to a breaking point. Only God can truly heal them—and He is faithful. He works powerfully in the lives of these couples during their week in Alaska.

Our chaplains counsel them and compassionately share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them. And our staff members let them know that God loves them and hasn't forgotten them.

We praise God that during the 2022 summer season, 96 individuals invited Christ into their lives and found the healing and peace that had so long eluded them.

Mike and Carolina Morales

Among those transformed by the Gospel was Army Sergeant Mike Morales. Horrific experiences during his multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan took a heavy toll and left Mike a shell of the man he was previously. But Mike found healing through the cross of Christ.

“It'd been 16 years of putting a Band-Aid on the wound only to watch it bleed through again. Sixteen years of putting another stone in the bag and another and another and carrying that bag around on my shoulders,” Mike said. “Now I've given my heart to Jesus Christ. All that guilt, unforgiveness, self-doubt, and the burden of coming home when my brothers didn't make it—that's what I let go of this week. I am going home a new man.”

Lonnie and Liz Wynne

Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Lonnie Wynne and his wife, former Navy Petty Officer Liz Wynne, also found new life in Christ while in Alaska and were baptized together in the chilly waters of Lake Clark.

“We prayed with the chaplain to receive Jesus into our lives because we've decided to walk down this road together,” Liz said. “We were hurting. We were breaking. We knew there was no way to fix this by ourselves. When we get home they'll follow up, help us walk through our next steps. We're grateful we came here and that when we get back home we won't be left to fall back into the same things.”

Many Alaska alumni express appreciation for the lifetime commitment that Operation Heal Our Patriots makes to them through our Family Care ministry. Alaska is just the beginning of their new journey.

We are thankful to God for every person who was baptized this season in Lake Clark.
We are thankful to God for every person who was baptized this season in Lake Clark.
Eddie and Natalie Shanks

Eddie & Natalie Shanks

Natalie Shanks endured many restless days and nights while her husband, Army Sergeant Eddie Shanks, was deployed. Eddie worked in security, and his vehicle was often in the direct line of attack. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and that—combined with lingering effects of multiple brain injuries—strained the couple’s relationship.

A veteran nails a metal bracelet bearing the name of a friend to a wooden post dedicated to honoring the fallen.
A veteran nails a metal bracelet bearing the name of a friend to a wooden post dedicated to honoring the fallen.

Eddie's mental health struggles weren't the only thing bearing down on the Shanks. Natalie lives with Crohn's disease and chronic kidney disease. Doctors have already given the prognosis if she has to go on dialysis: “I'll be gone a couple years after that.”

A weakened immune system put Natalie at a higher risk for COVID-19, and she got the virus several times. “The last few years have been heavy and emotional,” she said. “I've watched Eddie grow in his faith, but I felt like every day I was losing more of mine.” Eddie had been praying for Natalie to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Our staff prays over the military couples before they begin their journey home.
Our staff prays over the military couples before they begin their journey home.

Natalie saw God's love demonstrated through the witness of staff and volunteers at Samaritan Lodge Alaska, and one night after talking with our chaplains, she prayed to receive Christ as her Savior.

“This changes everything,” she said. “This will change our family.” Natalie and Eddie were both baptized in Lake Clark. “It felt like a weight was lifted. Everything has been renewed,” Eddie said.

Traveling Through Life Together

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Isaiah 26:3

Funnel cakes and plunging roller coasters at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, might seem an odd combination in an unlikely place if the goal is to help families grow toward faith in Jesus Christ. But Army veteran Jonathan Wheeler and wife, Candace, chose the theme park because they “wanted families to relax and just have fun and enjoy the day together.” Jonathan and Candace are Key Leaders; they coordinate regional and local events for Operation Heal Our Patriots alumni.

Jonathan and Candace Wheeler

The day started with devotions at Bloom Church, the Wheelers' home congregation. There was even a marriage rededication ceremony performed by Operation Heal Our Patriots regional chaplain Luis Anda. But later that morning, the dozen or so families with fidgeting children carpooled and caravanned over for a day enjoying rides, sunshine, and good food together.

“It was important for the whole family to be there,” Jonathan said. “Operation Heal Our Patriots isn't just for the couples. It's also for bringing families closer together and meeting other families. This includes the kids.”

The Wheelers are one of 31 Key Leader couples serving in critical leadership roles as part of the program's Family Care ministry. Family Care provides ongoing support and service opportunities, such as Operation Heal Our Patriots alumni who volunteer for disaster relief projects with Samaritan's Purse.

The event in Missouri was one among many local gatherings hosted by Key Leaders and regional chaplains throughout the year. Marriage enrichment training and the annual reunion fortify marriages, but gatherings help strengthen families.

“There's not a lot of time to get away for a full vacation,” Jonathan said. “Giving tickets to a family and saying ‘let's just go and have fun’ can give them breathing room and time together many families may not get to experience.”

“It was a blessing sent from God,” Lacy said. “Our family doesn't do a lot of trips. I have prayed my heart out to bring us close again.”

“Little by little, with an hour or two here or there for dinner, and then with this weekend of us being together, you are part of helping answer my prayers.”

Anda said that gatherings, phone conversations, text messages, and weekend events are all part of the moment-by-moment connection required for people of God to help families grow in their walk with Jesus.

“We're on a long road together,” said Anda. “That's why we emphasize the lifetime commitment to military couples. It means daily growth and sometimes daily struggles—together.”

Surrendered to God

More than 400 military couples met in Orlando for the 2022 Operation Heal Our Patriots Reunion and were inspired, challenged, and encouraged by powerful speakers and workshop leaders who pointed to Christ for healing and restoration.

The gathering heard from prominent Christian leaders including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin; Capt. (Ret.) Ken Bevel; and baseball legend Darryl Strawberry. Samaritan's Purse president, Franklin Graham, and his son Edward Graham, chief operating officer, spoke as well and met with couples.

Bevel told the attendees that he was facing a general court-martial when he realized his need for Christ and surrendered his life to Him. “The only thing the Lord is looking for in you is to be a willing and surrendered vessel,” Bevel said.

The reunion closed with a soaring rendition of the National Anthem. It was a fitting finale, led by a chorus of wounded patriots and their spouses who have sacrificed so much to keep America the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Veterans Discover a new mission

For we are His worksmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

In spring of 2022, Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant Brad Chandler found himself in the ashes of someone's burned-out home in Muro, New Mexico. The region had experienced devastating fires that destroyed thousands of acres of forest and residential areas.

Homes were gone, but Brad and his wife, Tammy, were there helping fire victims who were trying to recover keepsakes that weren't destroyed in the blaze.

This wasn't the first time Brad found himself in a scorched landscape, but it was his first time sifting through the ashes looking for rings, coins, or other valuables.

This mission with the Samaritan's Purse program Team Patriot had placed him on the frontlines of a disaster where people were searching for hope, as well as belongings, amid the charred remnants of their former lives. Brad was there with Tammy because he was on a quest for purpose.

This was one of the first times since the Marine Corps that he felt that sense of mission and direction.

After 27 years and 12 deployments, Brad and Tammy together faced the challenges of combat memories and war wounds—along with the sudden loss of purpose the Corps had given him.

The couple had gone to Samaritan Lodge Alaska in 2019, a time marked by a deepening faith and stronger marriage. Later that year, they learned about Team Patriot during the Operation Heal Our Patriots Annual Reunion. The New Mexico wildfire response was Brad and Tammy's first. In 2022, they also responded to the St. Louis flood disaster.

“When you leave the service, you leave an environment where you know what it feels like to accomplish important things with your brothers,” Brad said. “When you come out, you search for that feeling again.

“I couldn’t find what I was looking for in other places. But then I found Christ and Samaritan's Purse. With Team Patriot, I found a mission to be a part of working alongside other veterans. It has restored a sense of calling and purpose for me and for us as a couple. And as a believer, I love the mission of sharing the Gospel.”

Since 2019, Samaritan's Purse has deployed 381 Team Patriot members to 48 disasters throughout North America. In 2022, they deployed to Florida after Hurricane Ian where couples served a World War II veteran and his wife, who both received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior following our work at their house.

I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus Philippians 3:14.

Apply Today

We encourage you to share this opportunity with other qualifying couples.

Married U.S. military personnel, current and former, wounded in combat or combat-related activities since 9/11 are invited to fill out an Operation Heal Our Patriots application online at samaritanspurse.org/patriots. Applications for the summer season are accepted starting Feb. 1 each year. Connect with previous participants and others who support our patriots by visiting facebook.com/operationhealourpatriots.

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