A military marriage is difficult to begin with, but having a spouse come home wounded from active duty adds incomprehensible strain. Operation Heal Our Patriots, a ministry of the Franklin-Graham-led Samaritan's Purse, will be the first program in the country to offer support for couples in such marriages.
The marriage enrichment program, featuring weeklong retreats to a remote, refurbished fishing camp in Alaska, begins next month with its first set of ten couples, each having a spouse with battle injuries – either visible or invisible.
"It's important that we are doing this now when the nation starts to focus on the winding down of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These injuries that people are left with, whether they are visible injuries or the invisible injuries such as the PTSD or post-traumatic brain injury, these are going to continue for a long time," retired Marines Brigadier General Jim Walker told The Christian Post.
"That's a need we are going to want to keep meeting even though the active combat may be lessening to a degree, the needs are still going to be there and we want to help by strengthening these marriages."
Coping with a wound or injury can be incredibly difficult for military service members and the stress of this new reality can be detrimental to a marriage, officials at OHOP said.
In 2011, approximately 30,000 military personnel marriages ended in divorce, according to the U.S. Department of Defense (USA Today, December 2011). Through Operation Heal Our Patriots, Samaritan's Purse is working to help strengthen and preserve the marriages of those injured or wounded while serving the U.S., the group states.
"Having spent so much of my career in active duty, and knowing especially what a strain it is on the wounded and especially the married wounded, the ability to continue to meet that need is personally really rewarding," said Walker, who was in active duty with the U.S. Marines for more than 33 years. Although he is the director of the marriage enrichment program, he currently serves as the Deputy Director of International Projects at Samaritan's Purse.
For the last two years, Walker has been helping to set up the OHOP, including overseeing the fish camp's new construction, program development, and finding couples to participate. The onsite program leader will be retired U.S. Navy Captain and Chaplain James R. Fischer, who also served posts for more than 30 years with the Air Force Reserve, Coast Guard, and the Marines.
"On the immediate end we can provide these couples with a wonderful retreat, a time of relaxation, to get away from the strain that they've been undergoing on a daily basis. But that's just sort of in the near term," Walker said. "What I want to do long term on this is to really make a difference in their lives and I think we can do that by putting them in that setting … focusing on them, to teach them marriage enrichment to improve their marriage because every marriage needs help. We are not saying that the people who go up there have broken marriages. I've been married 33 years. My marriage needs help [also]."
Operation Heal Our Patriots is open to current and former military service members of any or no faith, say organizers. Wounded and injured veterans and active military personnel are selected through a military and private network referral process. Once referred, eligible participants then complete an application.
This year, the ministry plans to host more than 80 couples at the retreat which is open during the summer for four months, ending in September. All fees and accommodations, including airfare and activities, are provided by Samaritan's Purse for participants.
Walker said that the principles used in the marriage enrichment program at the retreats are biblically based.
"It's the only program offering assistance to the wounded warriors specifically working on marriage enrichment to help the marriage as a part of long-term healing. We believe that a strong marriage, a biblically based marriage, can help with this healing process," he said.
"We also have an after-care program for when they return back home after Alaska that will go on for six to nine months," he continued. "For example, we will put the couple in contact with the local church to try and reinforce the principles that we began to teach in Alaska – bring them into the active body of the local church so that they can continue to be mentored and grow."
Samaritan's Purse, headed by Franklin Graham, is an international Christian relief and evangelism organization working in more than 100 countries to provide aid to victims of war, disease, disaster, poverty, famine and persecution. More information about Operation Heal Our Patriots can be found on the Samaritan's Purse website by clicking here.