Photo: The Samaritan Lodge Alaska retreat center, the location for the new Operation Heal Our Patriots program (photos courtesy Samaritan's Purse)

A new program, Operation Heal Our Patriots, built and operated by Dr. Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, is now offering a place of healing for America’s wounded heroes at Samaritan Lodge Alaska. Designed with married couples in mind, the retreat center is set to open for the first time on June 24, 2012.

“A few people have been at war, but most of America has not been at war,” said General Jim Walker, senior advisor and Deputy Director of International Projects at Samaritan’s Purse. “Unless someone in their family or a close neighbor is in the military, or served in the military, to many people in America, these wars are just something they see and read about in the newspaper, or hear about on the six-o’clock news.”

According to the U.S. Department of Defense (USA Today, December 2011), approximately 30,000 military personnel marriages ended in divorce last year. Another startling DOD statistic states that over 48,000 service members have been wounded or injured as a result of combat action in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the global war on terror since the 911 attacks. Reports further indicate that 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.

This strategic ministry initiative is working to reverse the staggering divorce rates of wounded U.S. military members. Operation Heal Our Patriots, a wilderness retreat in Alaska, is designed to strengthen and support the marriages of America’s own victims of war by providing physical and spiritual restoration to service members and their spouses (both retired and those on active duty). It is open to current and former military service members of any or no faith.

The retreat offers an opportunity for couples to reconnect with each other as well as to connect with other military couples who are facing similar struggles. It allows couples to address their specific needs, whether physical or emotional. At the same time, it puts them in an intimate group setting, which helps them to realize that they are not alone.

“I know there is a need for this, because of my 30-plus years in the Marine Corps. The need is there because of the strain that young marriages face today,” said General Walker, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for more than 30 years, prior to his retirement in 2009. “Marriage is difficult in any setting. But, if you take military couples – who are young, married, they have relatively low income, they take multiple deployments, where they are absent and then you add on top of that a severe injury and this is your definition for undue strain.”

In addition the all the possible strains on a marriage, he added that a person’s hopes, dreams and their world is turned upside down when they are wounded or experience an injury.

“For the couples that go up there, we think we can make a real difference in their lives, not just for a week in the sense of vacation, but for the long-term.” Walker said. “By strengthening the marriage, we can make a difference in their long-term healing.”

Programs and opportunities are offered by other organizations that take wounded veterans fishing or hunting, for example, but none of them focus on building up the marriage. In many cases, as a couple, one has been injured. However, there are two people who are affected by that and they have to work together.

“We are the only organization that is focusing on enriching the marriage of these young patriots,” Walker said. “We also hope to bring about increased awareness of this need.”