LAKE CLARK - War can change a person’s life forever. Captain Scotty Smiley knows that all too well.
“I was blinded in Iraq - a suicide car bomb about 25-yards in front of my vehicle. Shrapnel blew up into my eyes. I woke up two weeks later blind for the rest of my life. My relationship with my wife did change. I was not a happy man. I was depressed and angry. I was not a nice person,” said Smiley.
He’s the U.S. Army’s only blind active duty soldier and is one of the inspirations behind the Samaritan Lodge Alaska.
Nestled into the Lake Clark wilderness, it offers private cabins for couples to spend quality time together.
“When you leave and go to war and come back wounded, you are a different person. Your whole foundation and basis for everything has changed and yet you come back to the spouse you left before,” said retired General Jim Walker, the executive director of Operation: Heal Our Patriots.
The entire lodge is run by Samaritan’s Purse, a North Carolina-based Christian relief organization. The week-long stay and airfare are valued at $6,000 per couple, but none of that money comes out of their pockets.
“On behalf of Alaskans, thank you to Samaritan's Purse for offering husbands and wives, these patriots this chance to gain some margin, some breathing space, a chance to reconnect, restore and heal,” said Governor Sean Parnell.
The facility is also handicap-accessible and there’s a boat with a wheelchair ramp. Walker says many of the military members will have post-traumatic stress disorder as well as physical injuries like burns, bullet wounds or amputated limbs. He says they deserve a chance to explore Alaska and that’s what the lodge is there for.
“It's the most beautiful state I've ever seen I think. I used to think other places in the world, but it captivates you here. It helps with what we want to do, which is a respite, a retreat. Let's get away from everything. What better spot than Alaska to do that,” said Walker.
It’s a trip of a lifetime to the Last Frontier, and it is one Samaritan’s Purse hopes will heal our heroes one warrior at a time.