Wounded Warriors Find Path to Healing in Alaska

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PORT ALSWORTH, Alaska -- American troops have been fighting almost non-stop for more than a decade. Casualties from these wars include both our service members and their families.

Now, a new program is bringing wounded warriors from all over the country to Alaska for peace and healing.

Parched, Wounded Marriages

Their journey begins in a plane -- the main source of transportation to Port Alsworth, a remote Alaskan village located about 150 miles southwest of Anchorage. Wounded warriors and their spouses follow a breathtaking path in their search for healing of their bodies, minds, and marriages.

Landing on a dirt runway begins a week unlike any other. As they exit, they receive a hero's welcome from Port Alsworth residents and the staff and volunteers of Samaritan Lodge Alaska.

"They come off the plane crying because they did not get that type of welcome when they came home when they were wounded because they just came home by themselves," Sandy Lang, the facilities manager of Samaritan Lodge Alaska, told CBN News.

"There was no big parade or anything, and most of them will say, 'I can't believe you did that for me,'" she said. "And it's just the most heart warming thing. They just feel so loved."

The cozy retreat center is an oasis for veterans and spouses parched by war. The humanitarian organization, Samaritan's Purse, runs the program known as Operation Heal Our Patriots.

"We want these couples to experience healing -- God's healing in their lives," Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, said. "And I'm not talking just about the physical healing. That's important, but I'm talking about the spiritual and the emotional healing, and also the healing of their marriages."

"So many of these couples, because of experiences they've gone through, are finding themselves going in different directions," he said.

According to the Defense Department, divorce ended around 30,000 military marriages in 2011.

Path to Healing

Part of the healing process at Samaritan Lodge Alaska means simply getting their minds off wounds and day-to-day stress by experiencing life -- Alaska-style. That includes bears, fly fishing, kayaking, and of course, rest and relaxation.

"It's fun to see the excitement on their face when they walk in the cabin," Lang said.

Lang and her husband, Mark, co-manage the marriage retreat center.

"It's a blessing to be here -- first of all, to be part of an organization, a mission that tends to these couples, these wounded couples," Mark Lang, program manager at Samaritan Lodge Alaska, told CBN News. "And not only is the spouse wounded, the person that served in the Armed Forces, but the other spouse is also wounded in so many ways."

During a three-and-a-half month period, 150 couples from all over the country arrive at Samaritan Lodge Alaska. Some of the wounded warriors have injuries which are visible; others have wounds which are not seen.

"This is the latest and greatest military-issue X3, made by Ottobock out of Germany," Billy Costello, a veteran, showed CBN News. "This knee was developed for guys to return to active duty."

While serving in Afghanistan, an IED took off Costello's right leg at the knee.

"I remember the whole thing; I remember flying through the air, worrying about how I was going to land," Costello shared. "I didn't want to land on my head, realizing that my foot was gone and knowing that when I hit the ground, I needed to get to work to stop the bleeding."

"He's a pretty amazing guy to overcome all that he's gone through," Costello's wife, Jennifer, said. "It seems natural now; it's just part of him."

Restored, Recharged

Still, such injuries and their new challenges take a toll on a marriage. After their time at Samaritan Lodge Alaska, however, Billy and Jennifer renewed their vows -- one of three couples to do so while CBN News was there.

"It was perfect for us," Billy Costello said. "We really needed the time for us to reconnect away from everything, especially just unplugging from the rest of the world, just being able to focus on what we're doing, what's right here in front of us. And that's been extremely helpful for us."

"It's important to recharge every once in a while and take time for each other," Jennifer Costello added.

Hernando and Marisela Peña also said they feel recharged. Hernando suffered a brain injury in Iraq and battles post traumatic stress disorder -- the invisible wounds of war.

"The marriage enrichment classes were just right on point, hitting the bigger elements of love and support," Marisela Peña told CBN News.

"I would say that all service members need to seek God first and foremost, and address the issues that are going on," Hernando Peña said.

Broken Lives Healed

Fifteen days after Dan Stephens retired as a Navy chaplain, he took on the same role at Samaritan Lodge Alaska. He's witnessed dozens of lives change, thanks to salvation through Jesus Christ.

"My mission here is to help people come to know the Lord Jesus Christ," Stephens said. "That's been my mission in the military is to help people where they are."

And so, broken men and women, who have given so much, arrive in Alaska not knowing what to expect and leave here transformed by the healing power of God.

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Mark Martin

Mark Martin

CBN News Reporter

Mark Martin is a reporter and anchor at CBN News, covering various issues from military matters to alternative fuels. Mark has reported internationally in the Middle East and traveled to Bahrain to cover stories on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkMartinCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/MarkMartinCBN.