BOSTON, Mass. -- On a sunny and muggy 85-degree day, more than 2,500 runners navigated through the streets of Boston for one purpose: to wipe out the invisible wounds of war.
That was the vision of Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner after visiting Walter Reed Army Hospital after the team won the 2007 World Series.
"It was a good idea (Home Base Program) and through the work of all the people who come out here and donate money, I think we feel that we are making progress against what we all know is a stubborn challenge," said Werner.
"Part of the problem is that some of these brave men and women come back from combat and they are worried about showing a vulnerability. One of the things that makes the Home Base Program great is that there are people here who will care for you," Werner continued. "It's okay to say you're vulnerable and all we really want is to have these people who have served their country to be able to lead productive lives. We all know the statistics of the number of veterans who take their own lives every day. This program not only welcomes them, but I have seen first-hand how transformative it is."
Home Base is dedicated to healing the invisible wounds of war for service members, veterans and their families through clinical care, fitness and wellness-based programs, community outreach, education and research. Goals include developing an effective treatment plan that meets each individual's needs and improves their quality of life, help them overcome or ease the effects of post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury, and help the service member or veteran successfully return to family life, job, school and community.
Home Base's clinical services are part of the Massachusetts General Hospital and affiliated with Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. For the past 16 years, Massachusetts General Hospital has ranked first in the nation in psychiatry by U.S. News & World Report. The hospital consistently ranks among the top 10 hospitals in the nation overall for patient care. Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital provides outstanding care for veterans with traumatic brain injury, was ranked fifth nationwide by U.S. News & World Report in 2011, and is the only rehabilitation hospital in New England to make the list since 1995.
Gen. James McConville, the 36th Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, and native of Quincy, Massachusetts, ran the race and took part in pre-race ceremonies.
"It's great to come back to your home town and see the people of the city and the whole state supporting our troops, our families and our veterans," said McConville. "It's very very special to be here."
The general has a message for any Soldier, family member or veteran who are struggling with post-traumatic stress or any factor in life that could cause them to think that living wasn't worth it.
"It is absolutely essential to reach out for help," said McConville. "There are a lot of programs both inside and outside the military depending on what our troops need. They absolutely should get the help that they need."
Many military leaders will encourage subordinates to make sure the take care of themselves and have a good work-life balance, but at times don't listen to their own words.
"We make sure that our leaders get help if it is necessary," said the general. "Our senior leaders are required to get annual physicals and part of the physical is their mental health to make sure they are being checked out. Like any good race car or vehicle, you have to take the car in for service. It's not a sign of weakness to get help, it's a sign of strength."
Of the more than 2,500 who ran or walked the 9K or 5K routes, several were veterans who have received treatment through the Home Base Program, like former Army medic Denise Florio.
"I carried my best friend Justin Fitch, my cousin Private 1st Class Brian Moquin and Nick Xiarhos with me today during the run," said Florio. "I have been a member of the Home Base Program for quite a few years now. When I was going through a really dark time, a good friend introduced me to Home Base and they put me into a two-week boot camp for female veterans with PTSD and it turned my life around."
This run was vitally important to the Home Base Program, with the money being raised this year funding two new programs to include a first of its kind Families of the Fallen program.
"The Families of the Fallen Program started with a conversation with Kim Ruicco from TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors)," said Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Jack Hammond, executive director of the Home Base Program. "She explained that there is no program for survivors. They don't have a clinical program anywhere in the country. These are spouses who have lost everything. In most cases they walked in on or saw a completed suicide. Widows and widowers in their 20s with young children. They are pretty injured folks, so we took our two-week program for veterans and modified it and tested it with a group of surviving spouses and it worked magnificently.
"This program is completely unfunded and we needed to have a great turnout this year to be able to pay for this program while we search for a permanent funding source," said Hammond. "We fly the spouses in from anywhere in the country and they get a year of therapy compressed into two weeks and they leave transformed. We were going to make this program happen one way or another and today's turnout will do a lot of good to get this program off the ground."
Because of the efforts of more than 2,500 runners on a hot July morning, lives are transformed and saved and some great memories are made.
"As a kid, I was sitting out in the right field bleachers," said McConville. "Now I get to come out here and cross home plate. It's very, very special to me."
"Today has been uplifting for me," said Florio. I am overwhelmed by the support that all of these people have shown by running and cheering us on. It's just an amazing day."
Help is available if you are a Soldier, family member or veteran who is struggling with the invisible wounds of war.
"I have been there. I had to get help when I returned from Iraq in 2004," said Hammond. "It made a difference in my life. I have talked to thousands of people who have been served by the Home Base Program to include Medal of Honor recipients. If you think you're too tough to reach out for help, you're not."
"The weak part of you is not asking for help," Hammond continued. "The strength is you coming in and stepping over that threshold. It is probably one of the hardest and bravest things you can do, but it will change your life and you can regain the life you once had."
Contact your unit Chaplain
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Home Base Program: www.homebase.org
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: www.taps.org