Military Couples Encouraged, Strengthened in Alaska

June 9, 2021 • United States
Army Sergeant Russell Gaskins and his wife, Kerry, renewed their faith in God during their week at Samaritan Lodge Alaska.
Army Sergeant Russell Gaskins and his wife, Kerry, renewed their faith in God during their week at Samaritan Lodge Alaska.

We thank God for transformed lives as Operation Heal Our Patriots kicks off its summer season.

Bless the Marriage of a Military Couple
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Day after day, Army Sergeant Russell Gaskins scrambled to take cover from incoming mortar rounds fired into the camp. They’d come at all hours, and, eventually, he’d had enough.

Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham and Operation Heal Our Patriots Program Director John Pryor welcome Russell and Kerry to Samaritan Lodge Alaska.

Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham and Operation Heal Our Patriots Program Director John Pryor welcome Russell and Kerry to Samaritan Lodge Alaska.

“There were times the mortar rounds came in at night and you got knocked out of bed. I just crawled back into bed,” he said. “I prayed that if I was going to die, God would make it quick. I didn’t care anymore.”

Two deployments to Iraq left Russell with both mental and physical scars. He sustained injuries from multiple IED blasts and from a headfirst fall atop a forklift that nearly killed him. Russell broke his wrist, cracked ribs, knocked out teeth, and cracked the left side of his head.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) still haunts Russell, refusing to let him forget the terror he lived through during combat. “I’m tired of the anxiety and feeling the weight of the world,” Russell said.

Russell and Kerry came to Alaska because they wanted to grow closer to God and to strengthen their marriage.

Russell and Kerry came to Alaska because they wanted to grow closer to God and to strengthen their marriage.

Russell and his wife Kerry knew they needed some help, and as devoted Christians they wanted to connect with a program to help strengthen both their marriage and their relationship with God. They grew weary trying to find anything that fit the description. Finally, when they heard about Operation Heal Our Patriots—the Samaritan’s Purse project for military personnel wounded after 9/11 and their spouses—they knew they wanted to participate.

“We wanted a Bible-believing point of view. We wanted something deeper—we knew the Lord needed to get in Russell’s heart and work on him,” Kerry said.

The couple said that they were overwhelmed at the kindness and love demonstrated by the staff and chaplains during their week at Samaritan Lodge Alaska. This year Samaritan’s Purse plans to fly 10 military couples to Alaska each week for 16 weeks for a once-in-a-lifetime experience designed to strengthen their marriage and draw them closer to God.

“They have a heart for veterans. It’s a grand thing to see,” Russell said.

Finding Peace in Choosing to Trust God

At one point, the effects of Russell’s PTSD were so severe he couldn’t even enjoy a family vacation at a theme park. A place of fun became a place of fear and terror.

Kerry and Russell Gaskins joined Kyle and Nikki Porter on our floatplane for a day of fishing in remote Alaska.

Kerry and Russell Gaskins joined Kyle and Nikki Porter on our floatplane for a day of fishing in remote Alaska.

“It was sensory overload. I was feeling threatened and overwhelmed,” he said. “I could feel the laces tight on my shoes as for combat boots, I could smell the sand in my ear, I could feel the trigger of the rifle in my hand–I was that much on guard.”

Russell sometimes drank to try and escape the pain, but that only sucked him down an even darker hole. “When Russell goes to those places, I’ve got a shell for a husband. I go to anger or frustration or helplessness,” Kerry said. “I so badly want to make it better, but I don’t know how to help.”

When Russell is having a hard time with PTSD, Kerry explains his behavior to their two young children by saying that “Daddy’s head is sick.” And when that happens, her 4-year-old often prays: “Please, please, please, Jesus, make Daddy’s head feel better.”

Russell said that his daughter’s sweet prayer is among the primary motivating factors in his commitment to better “get a handle” on PTSD.

“I do not want my children to lack a father growing up. I want to show my daughter how a man should treat a woman, and I want to show my son how to treat a woman. I want to be an example for them.”

“I do not want my children to lack a father growing up. I want to be an example for them.”

The Operation Heal Our Patriots experience in Alaska helped Russell to feel more comfortable opening up and sharing his heart with others. All his life he’s been trained to “suck it up and carry his own burden,” and he finally felt permission to let go of that mindset.

Their time in the expansive, pristine wilderness also encouraged Russell and Kerry to spend focused time with God. “I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer. I’ve seen what God breathed into life and the canvas He painted,” Russell said.

Russell enjoys fishing in the Alaskan wilderness.

Russell enjoys fishing in the Alaskan wilderness.

Russell appreciated the Biblical truths he was reminded of during the daily marriage classes. “Marriage is not something you don’t have to work at; marriage is not passive,” he said. “I’m supposed to love my wife and lay down my life for her just as Christ laid down His life for the church.”

Kerry is also grateful for the encouragement she received from the chaplains and from the marriage classes. “You have to make a decision to love. Love bears all things,” she said. “That’s something I want to go home and continue to work on.”

Another important takeaway for Kerry was the reassurance that she can rely on God in every situation. “I’ve trusted Jesus as my Savior, so I can trust Him to take care of my husband. He can give us the peace we need,” she said.

“Whether or not the Lord removes the stuff from Russell’s head and heart, we still have to hold onto Him.”


Week One of the 2021 summer season (May 30-June 5) ended with three military couples rededicating their marriages to God and to each other. Five people received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; three individuals were baptized in Lake Clark as well.

Since its start in 2012, Operation Heal Our Patriots has welcomed more than 1,200 military couples to Alaska. It is vital to note that the weeklong experience at Samaritan Lodge is only the beginning of our ministry to these couples. Through our Family Care program, Samaritan’s Purse chaplains regularly follow up with them and encourage the families through ongoing discipleship opportunities. We also offer service opportunities and additional training experiences, like our annual reunion. We praise God for the hundreds of lives and marriages that have been transformed by the Gospel through this Samaritan’s Purse project.

Please pray that God will work mightily in the lives of the many couples scheduled to come to Samaritan Lodge this summer.

SUPPORT
Bless the Marriage of a Military Couple Operation Heal Our Patriots helps military couples build a strong spiritual foundation during a week of Biblically based workshops, relationship-building wilderness activities, and individual care by our retired military chaplains. We offer all this free of charge to these American heroes as a token of our appreciation for their service and sacrifice. Your gift will help us cover the costs—including transportation, lodging, activities, and long-term aftercare—so that we can help them find hope in the Lord.

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