BOSTON -- More than 2,000 people, including hundreds of current servicemembers, gathered May 4 at Fenway Park for the annual "Run-Walk to Home Base" to help those with the "invisible wounds of war."
In fall 2009, the Red Sox Foundation, in partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital, established the Home Base Program to help improve the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families affected by post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Through the Home Base Program, veterans and family members have access to clinical care, the community as a whole can become educated about the challenges military families face on a daily basis, and research is conducted to improve understanding and treatment of PTSD and TBI.
Sgt. 1st Class Adam Morelli, detachment sergeant, U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, is one of those war veterans. While deployed with a military transition team, Morelli and about 10 other Soldiers were tasked with training more than 750 Iraqi soldiers on how to be medics.
"Throughout the course of the time after many IEDs and (rocket-propelled grenades) had hit right around us, I realized I started getting headaches, and I still deal with headaches about three to five times a week," Morelli said.
Morelli could have either checked out or stayed in the fight. His decision was an easy one.
"So, for me, it was more of … I'm going to take care of my team members," said Morelli, "because if I'm out of the fight, then I can't take care of those members."
Through programs such as Home Base, Morelli is able to take part in speech therapy and memory exercises.
"Once a month, actually, I have to just get my medicine changed to try to beat these headaches because that's the biggest thing for me, because four years later, I'm still dealing with some headaches," he said.
"This year's run was even more meaningful in the wake of last month's Boston Marathon and the senseless violence that followed," said Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner. "Our service men and women sacrifice so much so we can be safe at home. Sadly, the traumas they experience are not the same ones affecting many of those who were injured during the marathon bombings. It only heightens the urgency for the ground-breaking research that brilliant physicians and researchers are working on right now at Mass General.
Many participants didn't want those activities to make them hesitate or falter. Morelli found himself motivated after the incident.
"I was even more determined, actually," Morelli said. "My wife was definitely concerned and wanted me not to participate, but it was even more so to come up and make a stand and say … I'm not going let terrorism stop us from anything. We're going to continue to do everything as we planned to do."
Servicemembers from all branches came out in high numbers to support the event. Spc. Marissa Spitz, a biological research assistant for USARIEM, found out about the program and wanted to show her support.
"I thought it was a great event," Spitz said. "It's in a great location for a great cause -- running for Soldiers who have PTSD, TBI and helping contribute to the research that they're doing. That's the future of the Army and all the branches."
Running for the second time, Spitz has no doubt that as long as she's in the area, she will participate in other runs.
"It's exciting to be around so many other people who are coming together for the same thing," said Spitz, "for warfighters who have gone through whatever they've gone through and are living with PTSD or TBI."
Col. Deborah Whitmer, USARIEM commander, couldn't have been more proud of her troops.
"It was extremely rewarding and gratifying to see them out here contributing to this cause," Whitmer said. "In the Army we have the value of selfless service, and that's what all my Soldiers are striving for and demonstrating to those around them every day. So bravery to step up there and disclose those sorts of things is inspiring."
Whitmer would like to see a close partnership between USARIEM and the Home Base Program in the future. "I want to get them to visit our unit and (Natick Soldier Systems Center), as well," she said.
Gen. John F. Kelly, commander, U.S. Southern Command, had this to say about the event: "It's something special, it really is, to see the outpouring of Boston and the surrounding area and the warriors and their support. It's just an incredible feeling, nothing like it."
Spc. Kyle Bibens, USARIEM, finished 30th in the race overall. Capt. Melissa Riddle, USARIEM, finished second among the women running the race.
Over the past four years, the Run-Walk to Home Base has raised more than $9 million to assist more than 500 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and families, as well as to educate more than 6,000 clinicians throughout the U.S.