The Necessity of Faith

September 16, 2012 • United States
Operation Heal Our Patriots The Necessity of Faith
Kristofer and Rhonda Kosem

Following Jesus helps a military couple who attended Samaritan Lodge Alaska meet the challenges of coping with a life-changing injury

The American troops were bogged down in the Shahikot Valley of Afghanistan, facing al-Qaeda and Taliban forces that not only were more numerous than expected but also deeply entrenched in the high mountains.

Heavy casualties appeared inevitable. Defeat was a very real possibility. Withdrawal seemed imminent.

But then the decision was made to send in Special Operations teams comprised of Army Delta Force members and Navy Seals. Thirteen commandos climbed over frozen mountain peaks of more than 10,000 feet into the heart of the enemy stronghold to change the course of the battle and prevent a U.S. military catastrophe.

Kristofer Kosem was one of the heroic handful who turned the tide in Operation Anaconda. He was awarded a Silver Star—the U.S. military’s third-highest combat award—for bravery.

“They were getting ready to withdraw,” he said matter-of-factly, “but we told them not to, we could take out the enemy.”

Ten years after the mission that stamped him as a genuine American hero, Kris and his wife, Rhonda, were at Samaritan Lodge Alaska, the retreat center for wounded or injured service members and their spouses.

Samaritan Lodge Alaska, a component of Operation Heal Our Patriots, provides couples with the opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities in a majestic wilderness setting. But the primary purpose is to address the challenges faced by military couples—particularly when a spouse is injured—by offering marriage enrichment classes and other programs to strengthen relationships.

Kris was not wounded on that awful day in Operation Anaconda. In fact, he survived two combat missions in Afghanistan, and another three in Iraq. Ironically, tragically, he was injured about a month after his last tour in Iraq, in a helicopter accident while practicing a rescue mission in the jungles of Colombia.

The helicopter blades clipped the tree canopy. Kris was thrown out, and fell several feet. He was knocked out when his head struck a large branch. He was med-evacted out, and spent five days in a hospital at Belize before being sent back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

“After about a month, things started getting worse,” Kris said.

He eventually was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury. The Delta Force commando, and hero of Operation Anaconda, could no longer be a soldier. His life, his marriage of 25-plus years, and his relationship with his two sons, ages 23 and 20, was changed forever.

“My motivation was gone,” Kris said. “I still haven’t fully accepted it, not being able to do the stuff I used to do. There was no adjustment period. It was nothing. I have fatigue. Mood swings every day. Anger issues. I have a lot of little things. Headaches, light sensitivity, muscle spasms, hot flashes, short-term memory loss.”

Both Kris and Rhonda acknowledge that he isn’t the same man he was before the injury. And that he isn’t likely to change.

“I would characterize it as severe depression,” Rhonda said. “Basically, it is what it is. He is the way he is, the way he’s going to be.”

Kris’ role in the war on terror already made their marriage a challenge at times.

“Out of the last 10 years, he was gone about six with training and missions and other things,” Rhonda said. “Yes, we missed Kris. But it was a different feeling in war, a fear. The boys thought their dad was a hero, but it was a fear. I didn’t let them watch the news.”

The challenge has increased exponentially since the injury.

“After he got hurt, our youngest never talked about it,” Rhonda said. “The oldest rebelled and argued, said this isn’t fair. He was gung-ho on the military. Now he wants nothing to do with it. He wasn’t the dad they knew. Dad was a hero, who doesn’t get hurt. It was tough. After he got hurt, my role changed to a caretaker, not just a wife. It changed a lot.”

Kris and Rhonda were told that marriages end in divorce 85 percent of the time when a spouse sustains a TBI. They were determined not to add to the statistics.

“I said, how can that be?” Rhonda said. “How could you do that to someone who’s injured? I feel for the younger couples, married 3-4 years. What do they have to fight for? We’ve been married 25 years. I have too much invested. I’m not going anywhere.”

Their faith in Christ has been the key in persevering through the injury, through the ongoing symptoms, and through the trials. Kris and Rhonda made a vow to stay together for better and worse. Turning to Jesus continues to make that possible.

“If it wasn’t for her, I can say 100 percent I wouldn’t be alive right now,” Kris said. “Without a doubt.”

Kris and Rhonda enjoyed their time in Alaska. It was the first real vacation they had enjoyed together in years.

“One of the reasons this means so much is I’ve been all over the world, done things,” Kris said. “She hasn’t. She got to come here, catch her first fish.”

The devotionals in the mornings and the marriage enrichment sessions in the evenings gave them things to think about, things to work on. But mostly, they reinforced the importance of putting Jesus first.

“They make us stop and say, yeah, we are doing things right,” Rhonda said. “It’s nice to rediscover some things about yourself.”