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Branden Kunath was back from his 7th deployment as a Marine Infantry Unit Leader and needed to figure out his transition to his next duty assignment.  With untreated medical injuries sustained from combat deployments looming over his head and compromising his career with the Marine Corps he was frustrated and angry.  He came home already heavily using alcohol to numb his PTS symptoms.  When he got assigned as a Recovering Service Member to Wounded Warrior Battalion-West at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton it only got worse.
 
“I was angry all the time.  I didn’t sleep and when I did I had nightmares and suffered terrible night sweats,” Branden shared.  “In the Marine Corps I was an Infantry Staff Sergeant with a lot of responsibility.  It gave me drive to take care of people.  It gave me purpose.  Being back home for the first time in a while and assigned to Wounded Warrior Battalion all of that was ripped from me.  My only job was to take care of myself. This concept was beyond foreign to me. Now I oversaw nothing.  I was spinning my wheels in the mud waiting on medical diagnoses.  I had no purpose which lead to no hope.”
 
As Branden tried to adjust to being back home he had a family who had been awaiting his return.  His wife Jeanette and two children.  Jeanette and the kids did not get the husband or dad they had hoped for upon Branden’s return.  Jeanette shared that he was always angry and they would go through long periods of not talking.  He became verbally and physically abusive.  When they argued, there was never a resolve.  “He would just shut down,” Jeanette remembered.
 
Branden admitted, “I had two emotions.  Numb or Angry.  I was supposed to come home and bond with my wife and kids but I shut down and isolated.  I felt like a zombie with no feelings.  The only feeling I felt was anger.  My kids were walking on eggshells and my marriage was a catastrophe.” It felt like we were co-workers rather than a married couple raising children.
 
Branden had lost all hope.  He had fell victim to brokenness.  He felt as if the United States Marine Corps had left him behind. He gave is all sacrificed so much time, blood, sweat and like that they were done with him.  He couldn’t integrate into his home; his health issues were drawn out even more excessively and he had no idea where to turn or what to do next.
 
Then Branden heard about Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs while he was assigned to Wounded Warrior Battalion in Camp Pendleton.  He thought it would be a great chance to get away.  He admits that his ambitions were selfish rather than motivated by the opportunity to heal or change.  Other men he knew had told him it was a nice place on the central California coast, and a great get away, and that sounded good.
 
As Branden arrived at the Mighty Oaks Men’s Program, at SkyRose Ranch in Central California, anxiety and worry set in fast.  He felt angry and that he had made the wrong decision to come.  As he listened the first day he picked the program apart and rebelled to opening up in discussion time.
 
As the classes continued, the depth of the material caused Branden’s anger to shift towards himself.  He recalled, “the truth hurts.” For the first time, I was looking at myself that I may be the problem and it’s not everyone else. By the third day Branden was eager to learn but was battling internally thinking about if he could apply what he was learning.  He struggled with the Biblical based teachings and his own faith.  Branden had become a Christian in his youth but time as a Marine left him disconnected from God. I could gain a brother who shared similar things in common while attending as a student. A close brotherhood relationship similar to what is found on the battlefield that remains to this day.
 
He remembered, “I felt when I became an Infantry Marine I had to make a choice between being a Christian or a Marine.  There are these unspoken infantry rules: you must be the toughest, strongest, fastest, mess around with as many girls as possible, drink the most, drop the most F-bombs.  You were bullied, ridiculed for being a Christian.”  If you did not fit the mold, then you could not be trusted. I look back now at some of the guys and think who better to be able to trust. A person who has strong moral, ethical values. Instead we would trust the guys who were doing the dirt with us. We didn’t feel as guilty then.
 
Branden chose what was tangible.  A paying job in the Marine Corps.  In his own words, it sent him on a “path of mere destruction”.  Looking back, he now sees that holding on to his faith would have proven him to be the toughest, bravest and strongest.
 
As Branden served on multiple combat deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan he began to witness pure evil.  Deployment stacked on deployment, bearing witness to atrocities, he began to ask himself if there was a God then why was all this bad happening. The question why do bad things happen to good people? You begin to be around so much hatred you completely adapt to it. This is the brokenness he brought home that isolated him from his family.  He carried the weight of it but didn’t talk about it. I would often tell people your worst day is my best day!
 
At the Mighty Oaks Men’s Program Branden listened to other Combat Veterans tell their stories that sounded much like his.  Except they had hope.  Branden surrendered to the process of healing and began to open up and share.  He recommitted his life to Christ that week and committed to being a leader in his home with Jesus as the foundation.  In a moment of profound understanding Branden shared, “Having a relationship with Jesus was the spark that re-engaged me to be alive again.”
 
Being the “all in” type of man he was, Branden called his wife and told her about the week and his new motivation to right their marriage and his role as a father. She was very reluctant to accept what I was sharing over the phone with her. He went home and immediately started to make changes.  He stopped drinking, over spending, and started communicating and praying a lot.
 
Jeanette recalled the first night he came back from the program and they went out to dinner.  She asked him what bottle of wine he wanted to order (a normal question for her to ask on a dinner out) and he told her he is done and no more drinking. Her immediate reaction was I have heard that before.  When he asked to pray over their dinner it sent her over the edge, igniting a resentment she couldn’t extinguish.
 
The positive changes Branden was making were causing more stress in the home.  Jeanette watched him work on himself and saw a change in him but she didn’t understand.  She wasn’t a Christian and she felt she was still living in the mess they had made of their marriage while he was moving on towards healing.
 
“He was on this road of righteousness, and was better equipped to deal with things, but he didn’t address the hurt in our marriage or apologize.  He was just getting better on his own,” Jeanette said.
 
After three months, they were not talking at all.  They were invited to attend a Mighty Oaks Marriage Advance and Branden convinced Jeanette to go.  When they arrived, Jeanette was pleasantly surprised to see how many couples were in the same position as they were and were willing to fight to make their marriage better.  It motivated her to do the same.  Branden and Jeanette remember their first days at the Marriage Advance the same way.
 
“It was a safe environment for us to get things on the table and address past hurts. We were able to be raw with each other I felt better because for the first time I was able to tell my husband how much he had hurt me, and I was able to see his remorse.  Bearing witness to his remorse I was able to get rid of the resentment held onto.  At that point something shifted.  Instead of him working on just him, now we were working on we,” Jeanette remembered.
 
Branden confirmed, “She was able to tell me how badly I had hurt her and we were able to start walking on the path of forgiveness and enjoy each other.  I was able to see all the good about her.”
 
Enjoying each other had become a foreign idea to the Kunath’s, and while they were on the right road, there was still an unaddressed issue in their marriage that would prevent them from completely being able to enjoy each other.
 
“I remember feeling left out, “Jeanette recalled.  “Everyone seemed to have God and I didn’t.  Kathy asked at the end of the session if there was anyone who wanted a personal relationship with Jesus.  I raised my hand and I felt so awkward being the only one.  Everyone was so joyful and clapped for me and I knew it was right.  That night I renewed my vows with my husband and accepted Christ.”
 
Branden was delighted at the fact that they both now had the same foundation, Jesus, and that they were both committed to improving their relationship.  They went home from the Marriage Advance and started attending church.  They started communicating, being open to what the other person had to say instead of walking away or shutting down.
 
Jeanette laughed, “It’s hard to be mad at someone when they want to pray with you.”
 
Jeanette was now witnessing and allowing the changes in her husband.  “He was committed to being there for me and reassures me when we argue.  He asks for forgiveness.  Mighty Oaks saved our marriage.  It saved my husband’s life.  It saved my life in providing me with a relationship with Christ.”
 
So, what do things look like now for the Kunath’s?  They spend lots of time doing activities with the kids and get great joy that their children are as in love with Jesus as they are.  Jeanette now serves and teaches in the Mighty Oaks Women’s program.  Branden is now on staff with Mighty Oaks Foundation as the National Programs Director for Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs. We are not exactly where we want to be yet but we are glad we are not where we used to be.
 
“I retired on September of 2014 and started officially with Mighty Oaks the next day,” said Branden.  “I am humbled and blessed to see how I can be used.  I can now look back and see how God put it all together. I was able to turn a mess into a message and my pain served a purpose.”
 
Indeed, it did.
WATCH THE STORY IN THE KUNATH’S OWN WORDS:

Mighty Oaks-Kunath-Final from Mighty Oaks Foundation on Vimeo.