WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2015 – When a spouse is deployed overseas, everything in the family changes. If you add combat injuries to the mix, the marriage suddenly faces incredible challenges that neither partner could have anticipated. Such circumstances can often tear a family apart.
Healing those wounds is one of the goals of Operation Heal Our Patriots, a family-oriented, faith-based renewal program that embraces combat veterans who are physically and/or emotionally challenged as a direct result of military service.
That organization is part of Samaritan’s Purse, run by Franklin Graham. Graham, the son of venerable evangelist Billy Graham, assumed the reigns of Samaritan’s Purse after the founder Bob Pierce died of leukemia. The organization’s motto — good news, great joy — stretches across the planet through 100 nations, with crisis relief, children’s programs, women’s support, medical and feeding centers, and training programs for ministry workers.
Operation Heal Our Patriots is dedicated to restoring families of veterans who have been injured or wounded in active duty since Sept, 11, 2001. Graham’s organization arranges for couples to reconnect in a stress-free environment, and works to restore relationships that have been strained or shattered. Many on the staff are veterans.
Marriage retreats are held at Port Alsworth, Alaska, at Samaritan Lodge. Wounded veterans and their spouses have the opportunity for spiritual refreshment, emotional healing and physical renewal. They can bask in the beauty of creation as they participate in marriage and abundant life meetings. They can also swap stories around a fire pit in the evenings.
Recently, six wounded Army veterans and their spouses spent time enjoying outdoor activities surrounded by the majestic beauty of the natural Alaskan wilderness. It was a time of relaxation while they focused on each other and onstrengthening their marriages. During the week, an amputee climbed a mountain with his wife, and a wounded Army sergeant was baptized in Lake Clark.
The counselors continue to support spouses and their families long after couples’ initial stay. Aftercare extends through a minimum of 10 touch points each year to encourage, equip and provide resources and crisis care. Over the July 4 weekend, Greta Van Susteren, host of Fox News Channel’s “On the Record,” and her husband, John Coale, attended the camp to encourage and mingle with wounded heroes. Van Susteren’s Fox website posted moving photos of couples being helped by the program. Wonderful stories of restoration have emerged. Perhaps other organizations should take a closer look at Operation Heal Our Patriots. In December 2011, USA Today reported that, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, approximately 30,000 military personnel marriages ended in divorce that year, and predicted it could get worse. Operation Heal Our Patriots, which brings 150 military couples to Samaritan Lodge-Alaska each year, is the only organization of its kind.
Army Sgt. First Class Platt Weinrick and his wife, former Army Sgt. Andrea Weinrick, havew much to be thankful for after their trip to Alaska.
“Ever since we’ve gotten back, I’ve felt reenergized,” Platt said. “I haven’t smiled this much in years.”
Platt revealed that he and Andrea had been growing apart following his injury in Afghanistan three years before. Taliban insurgents attacked Platt’s outpost in Kandahar. A grenade exploded in his face and cost him his left eye. A small piece of shrapnel entered through his brain and is still lodged at the back of his skull. In addition to the brain injury and monocular vision, he still battles knee, wrist and back pain. He was medically retired from both the Army National Guard and his civilian job as a Michigan state police trooper in a short timespan, which was devastating.
“I lost both of my dream jobs within six months,” he said.
The strain in their marriage began healing in Alaska as they attended marriage classes and conversed with retired chaplains. Quiet times, spent talking with each other, brought their defenses down. They realized they had left God out of their relationship, and that’s why things were falling apart. Platt said they are currently in the springtime of their relationship again. “I feel closer to my wife now than I ever have before,” he said.