You’re viewing a version of this story optimized for slow connections. To see the full story click here.

At Ease

Military couples find rest from the demons of war

Story by Samaritan’s Purse August 5th, 2016

Over the course of the summer, 160 combat-wounded veterans and their spouses will make their way to Alaska for a week of marriage enrichment. Through Biblically based marriage classes and excursions in the Alaskan wilderness, couples will have a chance to learn what Godly marriages look like and reconnect as they focus on their relationships together.

As veterans who are trained to put others first, this often seems counterintuitive. Marine First Sergeant Bill Baxter thinks most service members struggle with taking care of their own needs.

“It’s ingrained in you from day one—you eat last, you take care of yourself last,” Bill said.

Locals gather to give the veterans and their spouses a hero's welcome.

While at Operation Heal Our Patriots, Samaritan’s Purse staff members work hard to ensure the military couples are put first. As soon as they arrive, veterans are greeted by the entire town cheering and waving American flags as they step off the plane. This is often the first time that they have received a hero’s welcome. As the week continues, everything is geared toward honoring the veterans and thanking them for their service to our country. From bear watching to marriage classes, couples have the opportunity to strengthen their relationship while enjoying God’s creation.


This experience reminded Bill that taking time away from the everyday demands of life to focus on himself and on his marriage is needed and valuable.

Until he attended Operation Heal Our Patriots, he and his wife, Krystal, had barely spent 12 hours alone since their oldest son was born almost seven years ago. They admitted that it had taken a toll on their marriage because they weren’t putting any effort into their relationship.


“We’ve taken away the tools to remember that just like anything else in life, if you want it to work, you have to work at it,” Bill said.

On their last night in Alaska, Bill and Krystal both gave their lives to Jesus Christ for the first time.

Bill and Krystal Baxter enjoy a day exploring the Alaskan wilderness and bear viewing at Katmai National Park.
“[God] touched the innermost soul of me, and that’s when I gave myself to Jesus Christ,” Bill said.

Bill, like many of his fellow soldiers, suffered from inner conflict, turmoil, and the demons of war, but for the first time, he now has a feeling of serenity too powerful for words.

“[God] touched the innermost soul of me, and that’s when I gave myself to Jesus Christ,” Bill said.

Kayaking lessons encourage couples to work together as a team.

During Week 4 of Operation Heal Our Patriots, seven participants accepted Jesus as their Savior for the first time and four others rededicated their lives to Christ. All 11 were baptized in Lake Clark. In addition to being baptized, Bill and Krystal rededicated their marriage to God alongside three other couples—promising to keep Christ at the center of their families.


A Fresh Start

Just like Bill, Marine Staff Sergeant Robert Bosch was trained to never accept defeat.

“When you are active duty, you feel embarrassed to say there is a problem,” he said. “You have to act like everything is 100 percent OK all the time.”

Amirah Brown caught her first fish in Alaska and proudly showed it off to the camera.

But Robert, who deployed three times, suffers from a traumatic brain injury resulting in memory problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, and back injuries. During his 12 years in the Marines, he saw so much turmoil and tragedy that he no longer believed God existed.

He came to Alaska with the intentions of bonding with his wife and enjoying the Alaskan wilderness, but God had bigger plans.


Robert became a Christian when Chaplain Dan Stephens “broke the Bible down in Marine Corps terms.”

Both Chaplain Dan Stephens and Chaplain Jim Fisher are retired military chaplains. Because of this common ground, they’re able to connect with the veterans on an unparalleled level.

Chaplain Dan Stephens “broke the Bible down in Marine Corps terms.”
Bryan and Margaux Achee especially enjoyed building a community with fellow veterans who share their faith.

Though Robert’s wife, Grace, has been a Christian for years, she admitted how challenging it was to stay rooted in her faith when her husband denied God’s existence. Despite the challenges, Grace prayed that her husband would one day experience the power of God’s forgiveness.

Robert and Grace Bosch had a friendly competition—keeping track of how many fish they each caught in the river.
“I’m so excited to start our journey together,” Grace said.

Grace was thankful for the chaplains and their shared military experience because it allowed them to explain the Gospel to Robert in a way that he could relate to. Through them, her prayer was answered, and they have a fresh start. Now, Grace looks forward to raising her three children in a Christian household and doing daily devotions together as a family.

“I’m so excited to start our journey together,” Grace said.

Every evening, couples gather together to learn more about what a Christ-centered marriage looks like.

Seeing Things Differently

Before meeting Chaplain Jim Fisher, Army Corporal Jonny Flores always felt like people who spoke about Christianity were speaking a different language. When his wife, Nia, would say she was praying for him, he translated it as “I hope you are doing good.”

That changed when Jonny heard the Gospel at Operation Heal Our Patriots.

“It’s like a light bulb went off,” Jonny said.

Jonny and Nia hike through the woods looking for bears and other wildlife.
“It’s like a light bulb went off,” Jonny said.

Jonny asked Jesus into his life and immediately noticed a difference in himself. He said it feels like he got a new pair of glasses because he sees things differently now.


In God’s Hands

It was not just new believers like Jonny whose perspectives shifted in Alaska. Army Sergeant First Class Bryan Achee and his wife, Margaux, thank Operation Heal Our Patriots for providing a safe place for them to continue to build a Godly marriage and for connecting them with a family of veterans who share their faith.


Bryan was medically retired last year when his vehicle took a direct hit from an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. The blast left him with a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, a back injury, and nerve damage. Though he sought medical treatment, it was not until he became a Christian that true healing began.

Paul and Melissa Gillian left Alaska with a different perspective on life and marriage.
“I was in a bad place physically, mentally, and emotionally.”

Just eight months before coming to Alaska, Bryan attended a church service with his wife where he made the decision to follow Christ.

“I was in a bad place physically, mentally, and emotionally—I was exactly where the Lord needed me to be,” he said.

Mark Brown holds the Operation Heal Our Patriots’ record for the largest fish caught on Lake Clark.

Though he was heartbroken when his military career was cut short, he said, “It was all in the Lord’s hands. He had a plan.”

Bryan and Margaux now see how the Lord has been at work in their lives, and they believe that His plan is better than their own. Operation Heal Our Patriots reinforced this for them, and they’re now looking for ways to give back to veterans and share their story in a way that will impact others.

During Week 4, four couples rededicated their marriages to the Lord, vowing to keep Christ at the center.

A Stronger Marriage

On the last day of each week, Samaritan Lodge staff and volunteers and the veterans and their spouses gather on the shoreline to hear the testimonies of how God moved in the hearts of individuals and couples throughout their time in Alaska. Some renew their wedding vows and promise to keep Christ at the center of their marriages while others brave the icy cold waters of Lake Clark to make a public profession of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Jonny and Nia renew their life-long commitment to one another.

For Tia Brooking, who made a decision with her husband, Marine Lance Corporal Jeremy Brooking, to follow Jesus during Week 4, the baptism was especially meaningful. Tia had vowed to never get baptized unless she knew without a doubt that it was the right decision. After giving her life to the Lord at the beginning of the week, she was certain that baptism was the next step. Tia and Jeremy were both baptized in Lake Clark and said that it was an incredible experience to give their lives to Christ together.

Tia Brooking celebrates her new life in Christ.
Before being baptized, everyone is given the opportunity to share how God worked in their lives throughout the week.
“It’s God—nothing else can explain what got us through that time.”

One year ago, Jeremy and Tia were on the verge of divorce. The stress of Jeremy’s combat wounds was almost too much for the couple to bear. Tia said that their lives were spiraling out of control, but despite the chaos, they stayed together.

“It’s God—nothing else can explain what got us through that time,” Jeremy said.

The Brookings say their marriage has never been stronger.

Robert's wife, Grace, always prayed that her husband would one day know Jesus as his Savior, and while in Alaska, her prayer was answered.

“With God in our lives now, we feel complete,” said Jeremy. “We are much better as a couple, individually, and as parents now that we’ve brought Jesus Christ into our lives.”

“With God in our lives now, we feel complete,” said Jeremy.
Couples gather by the fire after being baptized in the ice-cold lake.

Since Samaritan’s Purse started Operation Heal Our Patriots in 2012, more than 200 individuals have made commitments to Jesus Christ, and more than 230 couples have publicly rededicated their marriages to the Lord.


Please continue to pray for the veterans and their spouses. These prayers are changing lives.

Veterans learn the art of fly tying and will test their lures during their next fly fishing excursion.
Bill and Krystal Baxter take the traditional polar plunge into Lake Clark.
Week 4 couples gather for a group picture before heading back to their hometowns.

“We know you all have been praying for us the whole time, whether you knew our name or not, and that helped us accept Christ,” Tia said.

Jeremy and Tia Brooking had a life-changing week at Samaritan Lodge Alaska, saying their marriage has never been stronger.
Port Alsworth, AK, United States
Bless the Marriage of a Military Couple