Most Americans have no idea that Alaska is home to one of the most innovative programs in the nation for wounded veterans.

This week on Frontiers, we look at “Operation Heal Our Patriots,” a wilderness retreat at Port Alsworth for wounded veterans and their spouses. It’s run by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian disaster relief organization. 

Here are some of this week’s highlights: 

  • Post Traumatic Growth: When Jon Schumaker stepped on a bomb in Afghanistan, his life changed and so did his marriage.
  • Beyond the War: How combat injuries affect more than just the veteran but often the whole family. How Samaritan’s Purse uses spirituality to help wounded veterans and their spouses heal from the trauma of war.
  • Conversation with Franklin Graham: The founder of Samaritan’s Purse talks with KTVA’s Emily Carlson about why he started “Operation Heal Our Patriots.”

As we celebrate Veteran’s Day weekend, there’s a lot of flag waving, a lot of talk about patriotism and sacrifice. But perhaps the only way to fully appreciate our veterans is to hear their stories. 

Photojournalist Will Mader and I had a chance to do that this summer, as we followed ten couples at a weeklong wilderness retreat at Lake Clark. 

Over the course of the summer, Samaritan’s Purse brought 160 couples – 10 per week – to Port Alsworth. Their travel from the Lower 48, meals and lodging, as well as sightseeing trips, were all paid for. 

Many told us it was the first time in years they had experienced a true sense of peace.

Jon Schumacher, a triple amputee from California, said he’s had at least a hundred surgeries since he stepped on a bomb in Afghanistan – and the relationship between him and his wife, Courtney, had become like one between a patient and a caregiver, rather than husband and wife.

A couple from Oklahoma – Stephanie and Christopher Moore – struggled to regain their intimacy after she returned from combat in the Middle East. Stephanie, who was deployed twice as a medic, no longer liked to be touched or held – and because children in the war zone had planted bombs, she began to see her own children as threats.

In a recent email, Christopher Moore told us the Samaritan’s Purse retreat in July has helped his marriage. He wrote:

“It has helped with stress, because we were able to get along better after returning home. We were also able to communicate better, which helped us to be open with each other. Us getting along helped our family life as well. There is less tension in the house, and we spend more time as a family now.”

Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, believes strengthening marriage is the key to helping wounded vets.

He created “Operation Heal Our Patriots” after his son, an Army ranger, was injured in Afghanistan.

Graham said, as he learned more about the impact of combat injuries on his son and others, he realized how the trauma of war involves so much more than just the veteran’s physical wounds, but also spiritual and family life -- which also needs healing.

Graham is well known in his own right for his international disaster relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse. But most Americans, let alone Alaskans, probably don’t know about his work at Port Alsworth, a community on the edge of the Alaskan wilderness, where Samaritan’s Purse has a growing presence.  

We hope you enjoy the scenery of Lake Clark. We brought back some amazing footage of a place few Alaskans get a chance to see. 

Also special thanks to Emily Carlson for hosting this program, as I recover from an eye injury.