Natick Soldier reaches out to 'Home Base'
February 10, 2014
NATICK, Mass. (Feb. 10, 2014) -- He grew up a Boston Red Sox fan in Warwick, R.I., so Sgt. 1st Class Adam Morelli had long dreamed of touching home plate at Fenway Park.
When he did just that during the annual "Run/Walk to Home Base" fundraising event last year, he got something even more valuable -- contact information for the Home Base Program, which helps veterans and families who are coping with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. Recently, he took advantage of it.
"Immediately, on my very first appointment, seeing the TBI doctor, he pointed out things that no other doctors had caught yet," said Morelli, 33, the detachment sergeant at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine at Natick Soldier Systems Center.
Morelli's problems with TBI date back to April 2008, when he was a medic with a Military Transition Team in Mosul, Iraq. He had relieved the turret gunner in a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected, or MRAP, vehicle during a patrol.
"About 300 meters away from the combat outpost and about 15 meters off to my right side was an IED that we didn't know (about)," Morelli recalled. "And it detonated and just rocked the entire truck. Luckily, no damage to the truck, no damage to anyone inside -- apparently, just to my brain."
After the explosion, Morelli got back into position and the convoy kept rolling.
"My team was more important than I was at that point," Morelli said. "Later on that night, I had a headache, but who wouldn't have a headache? That wasn't the first time that we had an IED go off near our trucks. It just happened that that was the first time that I was in the turret."
Soon, Morelli was experiencing memory loss, but he pushed through it.
"It wasn't important to me," Morelli said. "What was important was my guys."
By the time his deployment ended, Morelli's memory loss had become more noticeable.
"When I first got back, I kept forgetting the bread and picking up $30 of other stuff at the store," Morelli said. "Now (my wife) takes pictures of stuff and texts it to me and sends me a list on the phone so I don't forget, because otherwise I will."
And the headaches persisted. "It's above my left eye, every time," Morelli said.
Morelli has tried a variety of medications and has undergone speech and memory therapy since returning home.
"It's always been trying to find that happy medium to what's going to decrease my headaches but also not make me ineffective," said Morelli, "because I still want to be a good Soldier."
That goal brought him to the Home Base Program, a unique partnership between the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital that began in 2009. In his initial visit, the doctor asked him to march in place.
"I'm marching eight feet across the room and didn't know it, didn't feel like I was moving forward," Morelli said.
To address his balance problems, Morelli began vestibular physical therapy at Home Base.
"Since my deployment in 2008, I've been compensating and figuring out ways to get around everything," said Morelli, "whereas, now with Home Base, they're working on ways to stop my compensating and figure out ways to overcome those obstacles."
He has compensated well. In addition to his duties at USARIEM, the father of two is also pursuing an associate degree at American Military University and coaching youth wrestling in his native Rhode Island.
Through it all, Morelli never hid his struggle with TBI from his Soldiers at USARIEM.
"I think that more emphasis needs to be put on getting the help that people need, and that's why I talk with my Soldiers," Morelli said. "I don't make it a secret, because I want them to see that even as the detachment sergeant of this unit, it's still OK to go get the help that we need.
"We can still be great Soldiers and do great things for the Army. I think that that's an important message."