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Fenway plays host to Run to Home Base event

Program serves military families, aims to expand impact beyond Boston
MLB.com

BOSTON -- Marine Corps Major John Ruocco would have loved this.

Kim Ruocco reflected on it when she woke up Saturday morning, and the thought entered her head again as she sat in the stands at Fenway Park, watching runner after runner cross home plate in the ninth annual Run to Home Base.

BOSTON -- Marine Corps Major John Ruocco would have loved this.

Kim Ruocco reflected on it when she woke up Saturday morning, and the thought entered her head again as she sat in the stands at Fenway Park, watching runner after runner cross home plate in the ninth annual Run to Home Base.

John Ruocco was a fervent Red Sox fan. He watched them in the World Series in his tent when he was deployed in Iraq. One of the last photos Kim Ruocco has of her husband was taken when he was deployed -- he is wearing a T-shirt that says "Red Sox Nation."

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"Coming back here, knowing what an amazing fan he was, how much he loved the Red Sox, how proud he would be of me and of our community, and of our town, our state, really gave me chills this morning," Ruocco said. "Just thinking about how he would have looked at this, what he would've felt and this day."

Her husband died by suicide in 2005, three months after returning home from deployment. Ever since, Ruocco has dedicated herself to advocating for mental health and suicide prevention for veterans and their families.

That's what brought her face to face with her friend from high school, retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond. They grew up together in Reading, Mass., and years later, they were brought together again by their shared sacrifice.

"Most Americans are extremely fortunate not to have been exposed to war and what it does to a person and their family," Hammond said in a speech on Saturday. "But for those of us who experienced combat and those families who have been forced to bury a loved one, war is truly hell. It knows no grief, and its grief knows no bounds."

As the two discussed shared hardships, Ruocco talked about her advocacy while Hammond shared his role as executive director of the Home Base program, a partnership with the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital that helps treat invisible sounds of war -- like traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

TAPS, where Ruocco is the vice president of suicide prevention and postvention, helps families of fallen soldiers cope with their loss by providing a range of resources, from emotional support from peers, to referrals to clinical care, to a 24/7 hotline (800-959-TAPS). But as Ruocco tried to refer families to resources for coping with the trauma of a lost loved one, she found professional help was scant.

"He literally asked me, 'How can I help?'" she said. "We started talking about the ICP [Intensive Care Program] that he'd been doing for veterans, and they hadn't until that time really worked much with family members. And he's like, 'Well, I bet we could to that with family members -- you know, just transfer what we do with veterans to family members.'"

So they did. ICP compresses a year's worth of therapy into two weeks to treat veterans with PTSD, at no cost to the service members. Ruocco and other TAPS members identified in-need families and flew them to Boston, where Home Base gave them tools to cope with trauma and a support system of people with similar experiences.

"I was overwhelmed with emotion, really," Ruocco said. "Because these were groups of women that we were really concerned about and were concerned about not only them, but their young children. … So having the opportunity to provide them with such hope and healing was incredible. We all cried in the graduation."

Much of the proceeds from Saturday's race will go toward expanding this program for military families, as part of Home Base's mission to take their impact beyond Boston. The organization is opening a National Center of Excellence, which will double the number of patients they serve.

Those steps into the future continued with a race with over 2,500 participants -- including 10 ICP graduates, Hammond said. The sunrise over Fenway Park, the speeches honoring military and their families, the wall of remembrance where runners could write messages of gratitude are both an appreciation of the progress made so far and a launching point for what's to come.

One day forward on a long journey to awareness, and eventually, healing.

Blake Richardson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Boston

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