By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public AffairsMarch 5, 2013
BOSTON (March 5, 2013) -- How often does one get the chance to run on the field at Fenway Park, cross home plate, and help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families -- all on the same day?
The answer is once a year, during the Run-Walk to Home Base presented by New Balance. The fourth annual event will take place Saturday, May 4 to raise funds for the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program, which since 2009 has helped veterans and families coping with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.
Each of those organizations contributed $3 million in seed money over three years to launch the unique partnership, which had been born during visits that Red Sox players, management and owners had made after their World Series wins in 2004 and 2007 to young veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Home Base is the first partnership of its kind between an academic medical center and Major League Baseball to offer clinical care, community education and research.
The 2013 event, limited to 4,000 entrants, will feature a nine-kilometer run and a three-mile walk that start and finish at Fenway. While most participants must raise a minimum of $1,000 apiece, up to 500 active-duty military members can enter for just a $50 registration fee. Participants and sponsors have raised more than $7.3 million since 2010 for the Home Base Program.
Among the thousands who lace up running and walking shoes each year are service members and veterans seeking to help their brothers and sisters in arms. Some have their own special reasons for toeing the starting line, including Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Coots II, running for the first time.
Currently stationed at Fort Riley, Kan., Coots will be heading for home in more ways than one May 4: He's a Pawtucket, R.I., native, and he will join family members who have done the Run since 2009 in memory of his brother-in-law, Capt. Anthony Palermo Jr., who was killed in Iraq by an improvised explosive device, April 6, 2007.
"It's important to do this run for me for remembrance," said Coots, "not only for the ones we lost, but for the ones who still fight today, whether it be on a battlefield or at home with the memories and/or injuries."
Dan Kemp is no longer in uniform, but he works on behalf of those who still are. The chief of the Information Management Branch at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine at Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts has taken part in the Run since its inception.
"It sounded like a good thing to do, like my little way to give back," said Kemp, a former Soldier and an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. "I've decided to make that my thing."
Though he grew up in Carlisle, Pa., and does the event each year wearing a Phillies cap, Kemp enjoys running through Boston and into Fenway.
"It's a great atmosphere," Kemp said. "Fenway's an iconic park. It's a great event, it's a fun crowd, and it's for a good cause."
Spc. Kim Belskis of the Massachusetts Army National Guard will run in the Home Base event for the fourth consecutive year.
"The race has been close to my heart for the last few years," Belskis said. "I thought this is a way for me to give back to those that are serving overseas."
Belskis recalled running into the historic ballpark for the first time, in 2010.
"I've never been able to actually touch the field at Fenway Park before," said Belskis, "so it was a fantastic experience."
Belskis said she has no plans to stop supporting the Home Base Program. She added that she has seen what the program has done for veterans and families.
"They do a lot for everybody," Belskis said. "This is something that I could actually see myself doing for a very long time. When you join the military, you essentially join a family."
For more information on the 2013 Run-Walk to Home Base presented by New Balance, go to www.runtohomebase.org. To learn more about Home Base services for veterans and their families, visit www.homebaseprogram.org or call (617) 724-5202.