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Mission Gratitude 2014 a Success

 The 2014 Mission Gratitude benefit concert was a success. The event, held Veteran’s Day Eve at Boston’s Symphony Hall, is the largest benefit concert in New England supporting our wounded warriors.  

Legendary entertainer Harry Connick, Jr. was the featured performer at Mission Gratitude. Connick is known for his roles on the screen both big and small, on Broadway, and for his multiplatinum success as a singer. Connick has released 29 albums, won three Grammy Awards and two Emmy Awards and sold more than 28 million albums worldwide.

 A powerful moment during the night was when 2014 Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts took the stage as a special guest speaker. Sergeant Pitts received the nation’s highest military honor for his role in the Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan. Sergeant Pitts is a Lowell, Massachusetts native who now resides in Nashua, New Hampshire. He told the crowd at Mission Gratitude about his own traumatic brain injury, something he has never before spoken about publicly.

“Often, it seems there is a perception that seeking help is a sign of weakness.  Or, that we deserve to suffer in some way because we came home and our friends did not.  I have felt both of these and neither is true," said Pitts. "There is no weakness in taking the necessary action to enjoy the freedom that we helped secure. We have earned the right to enjoy our lives and should do everything possible to remove any and all obstacles to that enjoyment.”

 In addition to the show, guests at Mission Gratitude were able to meet and take photos with Red Sox legends Tim Wakefield and Jim Rice. Governor-elect Charlie Baker was also at Symphony Hall showing his support for the cause. 

Thanks to many generous donors, Mission Gratitude raised over $1 million for the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program.  Home Base helps Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families recover from post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury through clinical care, education and research.  Home Base serves active duty, Guard, Reserve and out-of-uniform veterans throughout New England regardless of their discharge status, insurance or ability to pay. Home Base defines family broadly and offers counseling for spouses, children, parents, siblings and girlfriends/boyfriends.

 Mission Gratitude is chaired by Jack Connors, Jr. (Chairman Emeritus of Hill Holliday and Partners HealthCare; David Ginsberg (Vice Chairman, Fenway Sports Group); Peter Slavin, MD (President Mass General Hospital); and Tom Werner (Chairman, Boston Red Sox and Red Sox Foundation).

Corporate sponsors are Covidien, Fidelity, Hanscom Federal Credit Union, John Hancock, MetLife Foundation, Southern New Hampshire University, Wal-Mart, and 1st Lt Derek Hines Soldier Assistance Fund.

“We are extremely grateful to all the sponsors and donors to Mission Gratitude for their commitment in helping us heal the invisible wounds of war for post 9/11 veterans and their families,” said Brigadier General (Ret.) Jack Hammond, Executive Director of the Home Base Program. “One in three returning veterans suffers from post traumatic stress or a traumatic brain injury. By working together, we can give them the healthy future they deserve.”  

Naples Daily News Profiles Warrior Health And Fitness Challenge

Naples Daily News: Program offers post-9/11 veterans fitness, nutrition and counseling

By Kelly Farrell

Sep 30, 2014 

NAPLES, Fla. - The Red Sox Foundation and their collaborators hit a home run with a free Warrior Health and Fitness Challenge program for post-9/11 veterans. The program, devised for veterans by veterans, is an eight-month program launched in June with its first group of 16 Southwest Florida veterans. The next group, which will also continue for eight months, begins the weekend after 9/11. Held at Florida Gulf Coast University, the program provides fitness, nutritional coaching, stress management and, if necessary, referrals to post-traumatic stress services, for post-9/11 veterans living in Southwest Florida.

This program hits home for me," said Warrior Health and Fitness Challenge Program Coordinator Armando Hernandez.

Hernandez, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, began studying accounting at FGCU when he noticed his new sedentary, civilian lifestyle had him gaining weight and feeling terrible.

"I was just sitting down one day and I gained about 45 pounds. Of course, it didn't happen in a day, but I noticed it all at one time," Hernandez said.

He began exercising and reading about how to efficiently lose the weight.

"During this transition, I began feeling so much better, looking better, eating better, having more confidence. It started this domino effect. I wondered ‘What is it about exercise that has this effect?' " he said.

That's when he changed his major, became a certified strength and conditioning specialist and got an internship with the Boston Red Sox during spring training at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers. He's now giving back to other veterans with the Warrior Health and Fitness Challenge.

The idea for the program came up in a discussion among veterans during spring training and was quickly spearheaded by a longtime Naples resident, Army Four-Star General (Ret.) Frederick M. Franks Jr. Franks is an honorary board member of the Home Base Program, which provides services to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families. The program is a collaboration of FGCU, Naples Vet Center, Fort Myers Vet Center, the Red Sox Foundation and The Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program. Franks hosted fundraisers in March; Southwest Florida donors participated in a golf benefit at Kensington Golf and Country Club in Naples and a benefit dinner at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.

The Warrior Health and Fitness Challenge provides supervised exercise, mandatory check-ins, nutrition counseling and wellness education that includes stress management, proper sleep requirements, breathing techniques and resources to post-traumatic stress disorder support if necessary.

"This is Southwest Florida teamwork in action for our veterans, who earned this by their selfless service for us all," Franks said.

Participants come from all over Southwest Florida, with most coming from Collier or Lee counties, including Naples, Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres, but also some driving from as far away as Alva in Lee County or Port Charlotte in Charlotte County, Hernandez said.

Theodora "Thea" Ashton, 29, of Cape Coral, a former military police officer, is in the first round of veterans meeting the Warrior Health and Fitness Challenge, and said she is seeing great results just two months into the program. Weight gain for Ashton isn't really a concern. However, having a healthy mind and body were what drove her to join the program.

"Exercise and eating right are not talked about. It's not pushed. Just, ‘Here are all of your medications.'

"I love the program. I love the idea of the program, getting into the depths of the way exercise and eating right helps with coping mechanisms for PTSD, and bringing us together," said Ashton, a psychology major specializing in PTSD at FGCU.

Old injuries in her feet had Ashton, a single working mom, months away from graduating, feeling sluggish and a bit unmotivated before joining the program.

"I was losing focus and getting back into dark places," Ashton said.

The Warrior Health and Fitness Program helped turn that around, not just in terms of her athleticism, but also with the camaraderie, she said.

"This is giving us the support that maybe we didn't notice before. Veterans — when we come back, we kind of introvert ourselves, and this has helped us to get out. Sometimes we can miss being around veterans. This gets that family back that you miss," Ashton said.

"All of us have been to boot camp, and most of us have deployed. That may be the only thing we have in common, but it's a strong bond because of the significance in our lives. It's cool to be in an atmosphere that everyone can relate (to)," Hernandez said.

Although the next session has not yet been scheduled, Hernandez hopes the program will last.

Interested veterans can contact Hernandez at ahernandez17@partners.org. More information is available at homebaseprogram.org.

Warrior Health and Fitness Challenge

 Helping Post 9/11 Veterans in Southwest Florida heal from the “invisible wounds” of war.

Warrior Health and Fitness Challenge is a FREE, eight month program for up to 30 Southwest Florida Veterans. Warrior Health and Fitness Challenge is designed to help Post 9/11 Veterans – men and women – improve their physical health and well being through supervised physical exercise, education about healthy eating, living, sleep hygiene and the health benefits of physical activity. The program also includes stress management tips to overcome anxiety.

Participants in Warrior Health and Fitness Challenge will have mandatory check-ins at Florida Gulf Coast University and JetBlue Park.

Warrior Health and Fitness Challenge is a collaboration of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program and Florida Gulf Coast University.

Interested Veterans should contact Armando Hernandez, CSCS, Program Coordinator and Health Trainer. Email ahernandez17@partners.org or call (239) 770-2414.

Tom Werner Receives High Honor From U.S. Army

 BOSTON, MA – Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner received one of the highest honors bestowed upon civilians by the United States Army Chief of Staff Thursday, October 30, 2014. Werner was presented with the Army’s Outstanding Civilian Service Award.  The prestigious award recognizes Werner’s innovation and leadership in the creation of the Home Base Program, one of the nation’s only private sector clinics dedicated to helping Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families heal from post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, “the invisible wounds of war.”

Werner is one of four recipients to receive the award. Other recipients include Tom Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Suni Harford, Citigroup’s Managing Director and Regional Head of Markets in North America; and Bob Woodruff of The Bob Woodruff Foundation.

The United States Army’s Chief of Staff, General Raymond T. Odierno, presented the award at a special ceremony and dinner at the Pentagon. The Outstanding Civilian Service Award is given to a select few each year who have shown an outstanding contribution to soldiers and their families.

Werner’s idea to create the Home Base Program followed the Red Sox’ second visit to Walter Reed Medical Center after being honored at the White House in 2008. As a child, Werner had experienced the traumatic effect of war on his father, and was inspired to do more for the veterans and their families, who were also affected.  In partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital, the Red Sox Foundation, of which Werner is also Chairman, has raised or donated $16.5 million of the $22 million collected over the past five years.

To date, well over 1,000 post 9/11 veterans and military family members from all over New England have received clinical care or support through the program.

“Since 2008, Tom Werner’s efforts on behalf of Home Base and the veterans and family members we serve have been tireless, steadfast, and utterly critical to the success of the program,” said Brigadier General (ret) Jack Hammond, Executive Director of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program. “His commitment to serve those who served us has made Home Base an enduring lifeline to this generation of veterans and their families, and is an example for other business leaders who wish to serve our country as civilians.”

The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare projects that an estimated 40 percent of veterans will receive care outside the VA Healthcare System in 2014. Home Base serves as a resource for both veterans and their families who choose to receive care outside the VA health care system, or are not covered by the VA or any governmental program.

It was also Werner’s vision to have Iraq and Afghanistan veterans be part of the Home Base clinical team.  Today, when a veteran calls Home Base, the first person they speak to is another veterans.

This year, over 2,600 runners and walkers, including 500 actively serving military members, gathered at Fenway Park to participate in the 5th annual Run to Home Base, a 9K run and 3 mile walk that starts and ends in Fenway Park. Runners have a timed finish at the iconic Green Monster and a “photo finish” at home plate, where they are greeted by members of the military as well as leaders from the Boston Red Sox and Massachusetts General Hospital. The event has raised more than $11 million over the past five years.

In 2014, Home Base received a $1 million grant from the McCormick Foundation and Major League Baseball and was also chosen as one of 22 organizations in Massachusetts to be funded through a grant from the Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. Home Base was also selected as a 2014 Wounded Warrior Project grant recipient.

The McCormick Foundation grant and the grant from the Office of the Attorney General will support the establishment of a national Home Base Training Institute, which will train clinicians and first responders to identify and treat the invisible wounds of war in post 9/11 veterans and their families and improve access to clinical care in community, non VA settings.

Starting this year, Home Base is expanding its clinical treatments beyond PTS and TBI to include other invisible wounds of war, including depression, substance abuse, and individual and family stress. Planning is underway to develop a 14-day intensive treatment option to address these complex needs and enable greater access to care. 

News Coverage: U.S. Army, Boston Globe, Comcast Sports Net, Eagle Tribune, MLB