Military couple heals their marriage in the mountains of remote Alaska

Kaylah Jackson
August 13, 2018 - 4:31 pm

Photo courtesy of Samaritan's Purse

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Amy Taft describes the year after her husband was injured as “the year from hell.”

When her husband Ward, came home with a moderate brain injury from serving in Iraq, he went from serving as the senior leadership medical provider for his unit in the Navy to living at home with a frontal and occipital lobe injury.

What this meant for the couple and their two young girls, was transitioning their focus to figuring how to navigate his physical and emotional needs.

“When I first came home my initial instinct was just to compartmentalize everything. I would just shut down one area of life to take care of another of life,” says Taft.

Photo courtesy of Samaritan's Purse
At the time, she was also a full-time high school teacher and coping by putting everything into a box often meant that her own well-being fell to the wayside.

“Self-care was nonexistent. I literally was just switching from one compartment to another compartment to another compartment…it almost shattered the husband and wife relationship.” Said Taft.

That relationship prior to Ward’s injury transformed from husband and wife to what Taft calls a “teacher-student relationship.” 

“I’d send him to the grocery store and ask him to pick up two things and he’d come home with seven other things and not the two things I sent him to the store with,” said Taft.

From this point on, she started taking away his responsibilities and stopped asking him to do things around the home. Her determination to keep everything under control eventually led to her taking control and as a result, left Ward with a lot of anger. His wife was treating him like a child.

The couple had heard about Operation Heal Our Patriots, a program for military couples, when Ward was first getting in-patient treatment. They applied and were accepted but coming up on the edge of his injury and her husband’s retirement, it didn’t seem like the right time.

A Samaritan’s Purse project, the goal of Operation Heal Our Patriots (OHOP) is to strengthen and heal the marriages of wounded veterans through biblical-based guidance.

Photo courtesy of Samaritan's Purse

In 2014, the organization contacted them again about being involved in the program. Their new normal as a family had become what Taft described as "emotional flatness" and they still weren’t connecting as husband and wife. She began falling back into the rut of putting their lives into boxes and it was time for a different type of healing.

“All of the sudden I looked at my husband and I literally sat down in a chair and I said ‘I’m tired and I need to rest and we need this…are you willing to take the risk and go?’” says Taft. It was then that the couple agreed to step out on faith and work with Operation Heal Our Patriots.

From workshops operated by military chaplains, to outdoor activities like canoeing, hiking, and bear watching, the program brings military couples together in remote Alaska for a relaxing week of spiritual teaching and relationship building.

Ward and Amy were already a couple with a strong faith but this program offered a sort of restart button to their relationship. They knew their biblical principles but weren’t sure what they’re purpose was outside of military life.

“We would literally find ourselves sitting up until 2 o’clock in the morning and him and I just talking about things that we hadn’t talked about in years, in what we wanted for our kids and what kind of home we wanted and what were our goals individually and what were our goals as a family", says Taft. “We just wanted to figure out our purpose together in life.”

Taft says the program helps her “remember how to breathe” and make a commitment to sometimes saying “no,” something she wasn’t doing immediately after her husband’s injury.

“For long-term healing for those wounded in combat, you need a sound marriage and a strong faith,” says retired Marine Brigadier General Jim Walker, executive director of Operation Heal Our Patriots.

Photo courtesy of Samaritan's Purse

Four years since Amy and Ward have completed the program and eight years after Ward’s injury, they have created their own OHOP group in their local area to sustain the bonding experience and share their story with others.

“If we can keep them from making some of the same mistakes that we did or learn from our mistakes, that’s kind of become our new mission,” said Taft.

Operation Heal Our Patriots has sent almost 1000 couples to Alaska. People who have no faith, are Jewish, Muslim and other Christian denominations have been involved in the weekend retreat.

What’s really special is the aftercare program, it’s not “one and done.” With reoccurring meetings and even a couple’s reunion, the Operation Heal Our Patriots team ensures the couples stay connected to each other, God, and the other couples.

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