Operation Heal Our Patriots

2023 Special Report

Wonder-Working Power

God changes lives in Alaska and Operation Heal Our Patriots begins a lifetime of caring for these couples.

Each planeload of military couples that landed at Samaritan Lodge Alaska this year brought with them profound pain and a longing for fresh hope. Days later, when the same planes departed, they carried out lighter hearts, stronger marriages, and lives changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In 2023, we received 180 military couples at Samaritan Lodge Alaska. For 17 weeks, from May 28 to Sept. 22, wounded veterans and their spouses came for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of Biblically based marriage training at the edge of the Alaska wilderness.

Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham and his wife, Jane, met couples as they arrived.

Most important, they heard the powerful Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which reconciles people to God and to each other. This year we praise God that 98 couples publicly renewed their marriage vows, 93 individuals received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, 27 rededicated their faith, and 105 were baptized in the glacier-fed waters of Lake Clark. They join the hundreds who have gone before them since 2012.

“It is an honor to meet these couples and to see the numerous ways that God continues to work in their lives as we complete our 12th year of this program. Our wounded veterans have given their best to our nation, and God has been faithful this year to strengthen many marriages and to give individuals new life through the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ, I pray for each one of these American heroes and their families as they continue to grow together in faith.”

—Franklin Graham, President, Samaritan's Purse

After Alaska, the program provides ongoing connection, training, and discipleship opportunities through our Family Care ministry. We provide couples with access to chaplains, marriage enrichment training, regional gatherings, and opportunities to serve on the frontlines of disasters through Team Patriot. Stories abound of how God continues to work in the lives of veterans and spouses long after they've returned home.

“When they get home, the jobs are there, the kids are there, the stressors are there, the injuries are still there, but Operation Heal Our Patriots is also still there,” said John Pryor, a Marine Corps veteran and director of Operation Heal Our Patriots. “That's what I love about this program. It starts in Alaska and it goes for a lifetime.”

The Tysons connected with each other while fly fishing the wild Tanalian River.

A Time to Embrace and a Time to Let Go

Army Specialist Jason Tyson's life changed forever in the split seconds following the boom of an IED.

Now, years later, he stood near the Samaritan Lodge flagpole in Alaska, in a ceremony with chaplains and fellow veterans, saluting in honor of fallen friends.

“I can't live in the past, because if I keep living back there I'm not going to move forward,” he said.

He was there to say goodbye, not to those brave soldiers, but to the regret of survivor's guilt—a burden that was slowly making his marriage to Jodina another of the many casualties of the Afghanistan war.

For years now he'd carried the impairments of the traumatic brain injury caused by the explosion, the questions of why he was still alive and his friend wasn't.


As he affixed a bracelet with his friend's name on the camp flagpole, among dozens of others honored in the same way, he was overwhelmed again by another name. He saw the name of a soldier he'd trained. The emotion he'd once been so good at masking, at tamping down because of the requirements of a warrior's job, surfaced uncontrollably in the quiet space of that solemn ceremony.

Jason places a metal bracelet with the name of a fallen soldier.

And he began to weep, but they were tears representing the healing that God so faithfully worked in his life that week in Alaska.

Their time there allowed the Tysons to finally face some of what had threatened their marriage for years. Jason's deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan left scars he wanted to ignore, but that proved impossible to hide, including the tragic loss of his friends. Then there were the symptoms of post-traumatic stress made worse by a brain injury suffered during the explosion.

A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:4

Day by day these issues eroded the Tysons' marriage in frightening outbursts and other erratic behavior.

“People see me walking around and talking, and they think I'm fine and that nothing is wrong. I feel like I'm permanently broken. It's like there's a switch that's broken and there's no fixing it,” Jason said.

But in Alaska, God gave them the precious gift of a renewed friendship with each other and of a tangible hope that their Savior could make things right again.

Jason and Jodina enjoy a hike together to Tanalian Falls.

The longtime followers of Jesus Christ recommitted their marriage in Alaska, expressing a desire to let God rebuild what was broken, with Him as the foundation.

“This was a step toward repairing what we feel like has been damaged for so long,” Jodina said. “This week strengthened us. This was something special.”

All Things Together for Good

Marine Sergeant Austin Dickinson and his wife, Cass, an Air Force Senior Airman, stood just beyond the reach of a high waterfall, accessible only by boat across Lake Clark then by an uphill hike.

Austin came to Alaska filled with questions like “Does God actually love me?”

But some of his questions lost their sharp edges in the beauty of the week. They'd learned more about Jesus Christ in chaplain-led marriage classes, and they'd enjoyed laughing together like kids at this remote fall.

“There's peace and love up here,” he said. “There's calm up here that I've not experienced since before the war.”

He'd done some crazy things in search of peace and adrenaline: “Like taking your street bike up to 200 miles an hour on the freeway at two o'clock in the morning. Just trying to get the feeling back.”

As a helicopter mechanic in the Marines, he'd seen so many killed in action that he couldn't get them out of his mind. He was trying not to think. Cass was trying not to fall apart watching him self-destruct.

“Survivors guilt is a real thing,” she said. “He wondered what made him so special that he got to come home when so many other Marines had not.”

That week in Alaska, Austin finally stopped running and decided to embrace God's love for him. He'd experienced it throughout the week from volunteers and staff, the chaplains, his own wife, in the truth of God's Word, and in the beauty of God's creation.

Austin received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior during a long conversation with one of our chaplains, and at week's end, the couple recommitted their marriage to God. Together they were baptized in Lake Clark, something that Cass hadn't done when she became a believer a few years before.

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Revelation 21:5

The Dickinsons were already making plans with some neighbors back home to start attending church together with their kids.

“If we hadn't experienced the things we've experienced,” Cass said, “then we wouldn't be here learning what we're learning about God. So, God is using all of those experiences for good.”

Randy and Heather Bing at naturalist Dick Proenneke's Cabin in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

Peace in Every Aspect

Army Specialist Randy Bing didn't tell his wife, Heather, about all the times he overdosed and was near death.


“I went down a real bad path,” Randy said. “A few times I didn't go to a hospital. They just Narcan-ed me [reversed the overdose with naxolone] and let me go. I went back to the house like nothing ever happened.”

He'd been sober about a year when they came to Samaritan Lodge Alaska. He'd entered an inpatient program so his family wouldn't “see their dad dying as a junkie.”

After Afghanistan and Iraq, he used opiates for the pain of his injuries, he drowned his emotions in them, and then they became a nearly constant craving.

“It's been a rollercoaster for probably six years,” Heather said, admitting that she came to Alaska because she wanted to find joy in their marriage again. “It's weird how you can dislike someone so much and love them so much at the same time.”

The couple came to Alaska partly out of desperation and partly because they were invited to lunch by another military couple. The six other couples there just happened all to be Operation Heal Our Patriots alumni who kept urging them to apply.

“What put us at that lunch? We had no intentions of being there,” Heather said.

Two weeks later they were on a plane, then fishing from a boat on Lake Clark and sitting in marriage classes hearing how God wanted to make their marriage whole again.

“The chaplains asked on the first day, 'What do you want?'” Heather recalled. “Honestly, it was peace in every aspect.”

"Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you." John 14:27

Randy's sobriety hadn't erased the damage of the previous half decade. She wanted peace, but for that, they both realized in Alaska that they needed a miracle from God.

While fishing on Lake Clark, the couple “felt at peace, no worries, no stresses— just complete joy.” The next day, one of the chaplains said, “God wants to give you His peace.” And the Bings knew they needed that.

Conversations with the chaplains helped them to understand the Gospel for the first time. “The chaplains bridged the gap for me,” Randy said. “The Gospel resonated inside me.”

Heather and Randy were baptized in Lake Clark on a frosty morning before they left Alaska. And in the months following, they are seeing their new life in Christ grow every day.

“I don't know how to explain it,” Randy said. “I'm not as angry. I'm more open and understanding,” Randy said. “I don't know how to explain it.”

Team Patriot offers Alaska alumni an opportunity to serve victims of disasters in North America.

Team Patriot

Saved After the Storm

It was unlike any storm Miss Ollie May Lockett had experienced in all of her 87 years. The 150-mph winds toppled a large tree at her Griffin, Georgia, home, making an impossible mess of her property.

Miss Ollie May Lockett

It would've been impossible for her to clean up on her own, but God brought Team Patriot volunteers to her home just days after the tornado struck. Since 2019 Team Patriot has given Operation Heal Our Patriots alumni an opportunity to serve those who've been affected by natural disasters in the United States. In 2023, we deployed 79 Team Patriot volunteers to 16 natural disasters in North America. Since its beginning, Team Patriot has deployed 64 times, sending more than 300 volunteers to disaster sites.

When they showed up, the tree and all the storm's mess seemed to disappear by the evening. And this paved the way for another miracle.

Ollie May, who grew up in church and on the television sermons of Billy Graham, was eager to speak with the two Billy Graham chaplains who showed up at her door. Minutes later, they were sharing the Gospel with the elderly woman who'd never put her faith in Jesus Christ—even after all those decades of hearing the Good News.

“Oh, yes. I do!” Ollie May said when the chaplains asked if she wanted to trust in Jesus.

Ollie May prayed.

Later in the week, as teams checked in on her, she continued to talk about what happened in the days after the Team Patriot volunteers cleaned up her property.

“I gave my life to God. And I'm so glad I did,” she said. She'd even started reading the Billy Study Bible signed by Team Patriot volunteers who worked at her home.

Family Care provides couples with ongoing access to chaplains, mentor couples, and a network of churches for continued growth and healing.

Alaska is Just the Beginning

Operation Heal Our Patriots begins in Alaska, but that's just the first connection point with our program to military couples and families. After couples return home, many of the same challenges are still there waiting for them.

“We give couples a mountaintop experience in Alaska,” said John Pryor, a Marine Corps veteran and director of Operation Heal Our Patriots. “When they get home, the jobs are there, the kids are there, the stressors are there, the injuries are still there. But Operation Heal Our Patriots is also still there. That's what I love about this program. It starts in Alaska and it goes for a lifetime.”

“There are more ways for couples to stay involved than ever before. Connecting in these different circles is going to make us a more tight-knit community.”

This is why the program's Family Care ministry provides ongoing access to chaplain care, marriage enrichment opportunities such as reunions and Fortify Your Marriage events, as well as ongoing regional gatherings with other couples. Through the Key Leader program, military couples serve fellow couples in their regions by providing opportunities through regional events and gatherings to build community and strengthen their marriages and walk with Jesus Christ. Couples also have opportunities to serve on the frontlines of disaster through Team Patriot.

Ongoing Chaplain Care

“A guy may be a total stranger, but you know he's got your six. He's got your back,” said Lou Anda, a retired Army chaplain. Chaplains can be a lifeline to couples in moments of elevated crisis, even desperation. “When you're downrange you're all going through the same thing together. It's a brotherhood. You share things downrange that you're struggling with and there's support.” This is just one of several lines of defense available to couples through our Family Care ministry. Many of our chaplains serve at Samaritan Lodge Alaska during the summer. Back home, they serve one of six regions. In 2023, they led Fortify Your Marriage retreats, provided marriage enrichment classes and pastoral care at the Reunion, trained more than a dozen Key Leader couples, and helped a number of couples find local Bible-believing churches to pursue Christian discipleship and community.

Operation Heal Our Patriots Reunions

Almost 500 military couples attended the Operation Heal Our Patriots reunion in 2023, where Alaska alumni were able to connect with fellow veterans and spouses from across all 12 years of the program. Alumni were reminded never to fight alone as they face the daily struggles of life back home. “Isolation is a downward spiral. It's a very dark place,” Marine Chad Hiser told reunion attendees. He and wife, Lindsey, came to Alaska in 2017. “It becomes an echo chamber when there's no one to challenge your false beliefs. That's just where the enemy wants us.”

We praise God that many veteran couples shirked isolation and reconnected with each other at the reunion this year. Thanks be to God that, following an invitation from Franklin Graham, nearly 60 individuals received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior during the Orlando event.

Key Leader Couples

Our Key Leader program has grown to 41 Key Leader couples, seven of which were trained and commissioned during the 2023 Operation Heal Our Patriots Reunion. God is using these men and women in amazing ways to create local community and opportunities for evangelism and discipleship year-round as they minister to fellow Alaska alumni.

Fortify Your Marriage

Fortify Your Marriage retreats led regionally each year by our chaplains and assisted by our Key Leader couples, giving Alaska alumni an opportunity to get away for a weekend, remember what they learned in Alaska, renew commitments, and grow together in their walk with Jesus Christ. This year, our chaplains and Key Leaders hosted 13 Fortify Your Marriage events where spiritual transformation happened.

Praising God for His Faithfulness

We praise God for all that He did in 2023 through Operation Heal Our Patriots to transform the lives of wounded veterans and their spouses. Please continue to pray for these military couples as they face challenges at home. Ask that God would continue to strengthen their marriages and families and to bring spiritual healing through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The 180 couples who became a part of Operation Heal Our Patriots last summer are now part of a family of Alaska alumni that has grown to 1,725 couples. From the ministry's start in 2012 until today, at least 765 individuals have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, 904 have been baptized in Lake Clark, and more than 858 couples have recommitted their marriages to God.

Pray also for our chaplains who are responsible for the ongoing work of Family Care. We want these couples and their families to have resources for marriage enrichment and family strengthening, opportunities to serve, and discipleship through local Bible-believing churches who walk alongside them in their journey with Jesus Christ.

Let's celebrate together what God is doing. To Him be the glory!