#137: Screwdrivers Can’t Change Tires – Home Base CEO BG(R) Jack Hammond (2023 Army Navy Game Series)

Friday April 26, 2024

America’s military must return our service members back to society ready to lead. Special operators are given the best tools in the military to do their jobs. They’re also completely immersed into the special forces lifestyle with almost no distractions. Yet when they leave service, they’re often left to themselves to find the right tools and to figure out what training they need to be successful in the next chapter. 

Two of America’s most important organizations have partnered to bring our Veterans the best tools and training all wrapped up into an immersive, life changing program. 

For the third episode of our 2023 Army Navy Game tailgate series Fran Racioppi sat down with retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond, CEO of Home Base. Home Base is founded and supported by the Boston Red Sox and Mass General Hospital; a formidable team dedicated to winning and solving the most complex challenges in medicine and athletic performance.

Home Base provides leading edge clinical care to the medical challenges faced by our veterans; including the effects of prolonged blast exposure, mental trauma, diabetes and even cancer. Veterans train directly with the best medical and athletic performance professionals in the industry with one goal in mind; return our military personnel back to society ready to perform at the highest level and continue to lead others. 

Take a listen, watch or read our conversation…and whether you’re from Beantown or not, this is a Red Sox game you want to be a part of. 

The Jedburgh Podcast and the Jedburgh Media Channel are an official program of The Green Beret Foundation. Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. Watch the full video version on YouTube.

Listen to the podcast here


Screwdrivers Can’t Change Tires – Home Base CEO BG(R) Jack Hammond (2023 Army Navy Game Series)

General Hammond, welcome to The Jedburgh Podcast.

Thank you. I enjoyed the podcast, especially when you did something on operator syndrome. That caught my eye. In addition, I’m a history buff in all the work you guys do. It is amazing.Home Base CEO retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond joins Fran Racioppi from the 2023 Army Navy Game.

Thank you. That’s an honor because this has been such a passion of mine and to have support from you and locals here in Boston. We are at the Army-Navy game. We’re sitting here. We’re with the Green Beret Foundation and Warrior Rising. We’re going to talk about Home Base and your efforts there. You left your long career in Military, which probably felt short, and then you had the opportunity to build this organization.

We hear a lot about Home Base. We’re local. We’re here at Gillette Stadium and the Patriots organization has done much to bring this Army-Navy game here. We can’t talk about the Patriots in Boston sports if we don’t talk about the Red Sox who’ve been instrumental in the building of Home Base as well. You came into the organization. Talk a little bit about the mission of Home Base when they reached out to you and they said, “We want you to come here and build this thing.” What did that look like?

That was pretty interesting. I retired. I dropped my paperwork. I got home from Afghanistan after my last command. I was a CG at Cabo province. When I got home, I had 60 days and I had to try and figure out what next. My wife suggested I consider retiring and I’d never considered it. About two tan rays into the conversation, I couldn’t think of that next big job I wanted.

The next closest thing could have been an infantry division, but 3 to 5 years luck and chance. I missed my daughter’s graduation at Harvard. I missed a lot of stuff. At 31 years, I was tired. I told myself that if I didn’t have the fire in my belly, that’s when I knew it was time. That afternoon on the porch with my wife, I realized she was right. I didn’t know what I wanted so I should do something new drafted up a letter of resignation or retirement request to General Adriano who’s the Chief of Staff in the Army.

They accept that. We lost him too soon. He had an amazing son, who was severely wounded in the war, but when it was time, it was time. I still had a course over at Harvard I was scheduled for. I attended before I finished up. A good friend of mine told me that the Red Sox were looking for a retired general officer or admiral, which threw me right here. I’m a lifelong fan. I started going to the game when I was eight, then I found out they were partnered with Mass General, which saved my mother and my son’s deep ties to both institutions. When you look at the opportunity with those two powerhouse organizations and what the potential is to bend the curve and make a difference, they had me at a low. It was all from a great place. Tom Warner is another guy you may want to talk to.

Home Base CEO retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond joins Fran Racioppi from the 2023 Army Navy Game.

You’ll make the intro.

His dad did some work with OSS during World War II. He was in Army and Air Corps Intelligence and was part of the Normandy Invasion and stuff. From deep in his heart, this was highly impactful for him. When he met with the folks from Mass General and asked them, and Peter Slavin was the president, “Would you consider this?” It was a unanimous vote from the board of trustees, even though they knew it would bleed money, literally. Their goal was to set the conditions for us. They said it’s the right thing to do. They backed it 100%. That’s why we’re successful. We have access to the best clinical resources in the world, bar none.

Home Base CEO retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond joins Fran Racioppi from the 2023 Army Navy Game.

When we talk about building great organizations, we do talk about the Red Sox. We’re fortunate that in episode three of The Jedburgh Podcast was Jerry Remy. I was fortunate to grow up in and around him. He was like a second dad to me. His youngest son was my best friend growing up. When I started this show or I had the idea to start it, I reached out to him and said, “I need some advice. I studied Journalism at Boston University many years ago. You’re the guy I know who’s dominated this industry. Now if I want to do it, what is it going to look like and what’s it going to be?” He gave me a lot of sound advice then I was like, “Will you be one of my first guests?”

It was awesome to be able to sit down with him and tell his story from our perspective before we lost him. You do so much. When you talk about the partnership of Home Base with Mass General, you are looking at one of the probably premier medical research facilities. Our warriors of all service branches as they transition face tremendous struggle. I was speaking, we’ve been talking a lot recently about veteran transition. I said, “Becoming a Green Beret wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Becoming not a Green Beret was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done.”

When you compound that with a mental and emotional trauma that many have, there’s got to be an outlet for it. As you’ve built the organization, you answered the call, raised your hand, and stepped into the role, and the mission was given to you to create it, can you talk a bit about the programs and the importance of the programs that Home Base is focused on?

When I got there, we had 25 employees, mostly clinicians. My good friend and battle buddy at Home Base is Mike Allard. Mike got the GGOBI or the Good General Officer’s Bright Idea. When the Red Sox and Mass General said, “We want to do this cool thing,” Mike had to pull the resources together to build a team. it’s an elegant structure. We don’t have all full-time employees on the clinical staff. We buy time from their salaries from Mass General, Harvard, Spalding, and Mass Eye and Ear.

They donate their time.

They’re all well-paid. You have to pay well to get the best. We don’t need a neuropsychiatrist 40 hours a week. We target the amount and then we only have to pay that amount and it’s cost-effective. Mike built this great system. We decided to look at how we grow beyond just treating greater Boston, Eastern Massachusetts, which is our primary base because that’s as far as somebody was willing to travel for a one-hour appointment every week. We created this fourteen-day intensive clinical program for PTSD, substance abuse, or traumatic brain injury that compresses 2 years of therapy into 2 weeks.

Home Base CEO retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond joins Fran Racioppi from the 2023 Army Navy Game.

How did you do that?

Think of it this way, here at Gillette, have you done physical therapy for some of your many injuries?

I have.

Once a week for an hour. They twist and turn. They give you homework. You come back next week. You lie about doing everything

“I stretched 4 times a day for 15 minutes.”

Twist and turn, come back another week, and over time, you get better. If you could get a hotel here and work out with the sports medicine team from 8:00 in the morning to 8:00 at night doing everything from cryogenics and acupuncture.

Are you working with CSPAR?

We are doing some work with CSPAR.

That episode will come out before this, but we went and sat down with CSPAR. We went through the whole evaluation. I had the opportunity to go in there. They took me in and gave me the assessment, which I think I scored, I don’t remember the exact number, but it was in the 50s. I kindly acknowledged that I failed

You need some work.

I need some work, then we talked about you and how we combat these limitations that I have physically. I got in the cryo chamber at minus 220.

That’s no joke.

The first minute was okay. You’re like, “This isn’t that bad.” In the second minute, it starts to get cold, then by the 3rd minute you’re going, “I’m going to get out of here.”

Imagine now if you could go work with the Patriots team, and sports medicine guys for 8 to 10 hours a day for 14 days straight, would you do better than you did 1 hour a week for 2 weeks?

I would jump on that opportunity.

Home Base CEO retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond joins Fran Racioppi from the 2023 Army Navy Game.

Would you get better faster than one hour a week? That’s what we did with the two-week program. We have them from 8:00 in the morning to 8:00 at night doing a range of things, packaged well so that we unlock the challenges they have and then we give them the skills that they need to deal with whatever the issues were moving forward. It’s a game-changing program. We’ve been running it now for seven years. We’ve had thousands of guys go through it.

At this point, based on another program, I’ll share in a moment, every 2 weeks, 24 guys, we fly them in from anywhere in the world at no cost. We’ve treated guys from all 50 states and flown them in from 13 countries. Because of the success of that and this Polytrauma Brain Injury program, we created for the Special Operations community, we now have one cohort group of 12 every single month that are all Special Operations team members.

You mentioned when we started that you listened to Episode 18 with Dr. Chris Frueh on the Operator Syndrome. Talk for a second about your perspective on operator syndrome. It’s that the aggregate experiences that you’ve had throughout a sustained career for 10, 20, or 30 years are compounding.

I think it’s worse than he thinks it is. He’s got a book coming out. The reason I say I think it’s worse is we’re doing research on that right now. The lead for our traumatic brain injury program is this amazing doctor who received an award at the Army-Navy Gala. His name is Ross Zafonte. Ross is the Chairman of the Department of Rehab Medicine at Harvard. He’s the President of Spalding Rehab. He’s the head of PM&R for Mass General. He runs the NFL Concussion Clinic. He’s the lead TBI guy since 2009 working with wounded warriors.

Anyone who says that they don’t have time in the day to talk out or do certain things, it’s a bunch of crap.Home Base CEO retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond joins Fran Racioppi from the 2023 Army Navy Game.

What Ross has proven and published is that with NFL players, because that’s where he is been doing his research for the last decades, they have a shortened health span, not lifespan. They have a decreased lifespan. On average, guys who have had a lot of concussive injuries, it’s nine years shorter than it would’ve been if they didn’t have them. The health span piece is the significantly high rates of chronic illness, including diabetes, vascular, cardiovascular issues, neurodegenerative issues, and early aging. Think of some old warriors that you bumped into on your trails and you see the effect of that.

They’re called Sergeant Majors.

That’s what 30 years does. Through our work, we’ve now seen almost 1,000 operators in the last few years. We take a lot of data on them. What we’ve learned already is the fact that 60% of their injuries take place in training. All of them have an indiscernible number of concussive injuries. When you start trying to add up any concussive exposure, and I heard you talking about it a moment ago, those sound waves blasting through your body. Every time you’re at a range or a breaching operation, you feel a thump in your chest, a sonic wave tore through your body. As you talk about it, it affects all the cellular levels and everything. They have an indiscernible number and have toxic exposure.

You’ve got all the effects that we know and have proven with the NFL players. They’re going to be present with the operator, and then you add to that explosive concussive injury and toxic exposure. It’s not going to be a better story, it’s going to be a worse story. We’re now going to work and shift some of our efforts so that we can get ahead of this and bend the curve if what we hope to accomplish happens. We’re going to be able to figure out the downstream chronic illnesses associated with concussive injury that we see in operations team members, then when can we start looking at them instead of 50 or 48? Let’s look at them at 32. If we see the early signs of diabetes or cardiovascular, we can nip it in the bud before it even hits. Does that make sense?

Home Base CEO retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond joins Fran Racioppi from the 2023 Army Navy Game.

That’s an incredible number when you talk about the shortening of a lifespan, but it reminded me of Allison Brager, who you may know. Dr. Allison Brager specializes in sleep. She and I have had numerous conversations about the effect of lack of sleep. If you’re taking the factors that you’re talking about, you’re going to lose 9 years of your life because of these concussive events, now you’re going to lose another 3, 4, 5 years because of a lack of sleep, that’s a lot of time. That’s 15 years of your life.

In 2019, the medical leadership from a development group reached out to us. They asked us to build this Polytrauma TBI program for operations team members. Initially, it was for them and we said, “We’re doing it for all.”

SEALs want to keep it all for themselves.

What happened is they come to see us and they’ll come over and we’ll do their behavioral health check, all their mental health stuff. We’ll do all their imagery, screenings, and cognitive testing for traumatic brain injury stuff. They’ll send them over to Mass Eye and Ear for vision and hearing checks. We found some interesting things like a lot of these guys were having migraines and part of the problem was they had one eye over the iron sight for years. One eye scanned and their eyes were slightly skewed to the point where you can’t see it, but the Mass Eye and Ear guys picked it up. By making some corrective things, their migraines went away.

We’ve had other guys that have had ten years of migraines that we made minor adjustments and put them on some minor levels of blood pressure medicine and the migraines for ten years went away. There are all sorts of amazing things that our team has been able to do, then they go over to the MGA sports medicine team, the guys that treat the Bruins, Red Sox, and Patriots. They do a full musculoskeletal exam because we know there are neck, and shoulder back injuries that affect your sleep, and cognitive function, and then they go to the MGA Sleep Center.

Home Base CEO retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond joins Fran Racioppi from the 2023 Army Navy Game.

We know going forward, the areas we want to find better outcomes for are certainly mental health. We have that pretty well covered, but we’re always getting better. We’re looking at cognitive function to improve cognitive function for guys with memory loss and other stuff. We’re doing good with that then we want to get into better pain management because that’s another one of the top issues we’re dealing with, sleep issues and then all those chronic conditions including cancer. We’re going to try and develop a cancer screening program so that as our operators come through the program, we have the right folks at the Mass Brigham General Brigham Cancer Program, which is their aspirational goal is to become the best in the world. We want to be able to rotate our operators through that care as well.

How do you get involved?

The best thing is you go to HomeBase.org. 1) Anybody, any veteran anywhere in the world can come to our post-traumatic stress program. It’s a hard stop. We pay for everything. We will fly you from anywhere in the world. 2) If you’re a Special Operations team member, connect with us. If you’ve got some traumatic brain injury issues or PTSD issues, we can help you and we can get you into the rotation to come see us for that. If you want to help support the funding for this, there’s a donate button right there because we operate 90% philanthropy. We got our first Federal funding from SOCOM. They’re partnering with us on a number of issues now, but the VA has not cracked the code on that.

We’ve cared for 35,000 people with no reimbursement, which is sad. We’re going to keep working with the leaders. The leaders all want to work with us, but somehow it gets jumbled up in the middle. We’re going to keep working at that. We are supported by a grateful nation of Americans who value the service of our men and women. They keep showing up for us. Corporate partners show up for us. They fund the stuff that should be getting taken care of by other people, but we’re not going to let that fall by the wayside. We’re going to continue to find ways to treat folks who need the care and provide them the best care possible.Home Base CEO retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond joins Fran Racioppi from the 2023 Army Navy Game.

What’s the best part?

The best part is Friday’s graduation for me. Every 2 weeks, 24 guys graduate. I watch them on day one. It’s hoodies up, eyes down, and nobody talks to anybody, angry and grumpy. We’ve got Vietnam vets. I have a good friend, Hal Croft who joined our program. Hal earned a Silver Star and a Bronze Star after dropping out of Villanova, joined the Marines, fought a case on, earned those awards, came back, finished his degree, became an English teacher, and became the winningest track coach in American history, Redding High, 29 years undefeated. A great Marine.

He carried around his stuff from Vietnam for 50 years. He came and got the care and he is raving about it. We’ve had Navy Seals, Green Berets from Vietnam that routinely come through the program and they’re a little hesitant because they’re like, “I don’t want to take the young guys stuff.” Young guys love them when they come to that. You know that. We love our older veterans. We want to make sure they get the care that they should have got, the treatment they should have got, and the welcome they should have got years ago.

That’s one of the most important things when we talk about transition, where do veterans go post-service and what do they do? We have a responsibility. Whether they be nonprofits, the military, government, or whatever it is, they have a commitment that’s going to return our servicemen and women to contribute to society.

Make them whole. Nobody is looking for parades, awards, or any of that stuff. They want to be made whole so they can reclaim their life and move forward. We give them the tools. I tell the guys at graduation, “We did not fix you. Take that and scrub that.” You guys are all self-starters that can do incredible things. I know what it takes to become a Green Beret. What the SEALs do to go through buds and all that stuff is miraculous. You had the tools, then you had the tools to go do the things you did overseas.Home Base CEO retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond joins Fran Racioppi from the 2023 Army Navy Game.

When you came home, nobody gave you the tools. If you don’t have the tools to do a job, it’s like a monkey trying to change a tire with a screwdriver. You can play with it for a long time. It’s not going to happen. We gave the guys, when they come to us, they get the tools. We explain to them what’s going on inside their body, what the physiological impact of what they’ve been through is, and then how to address it. When you give high-performing people the tools they need to succeed, they succeed and thrive. They surprise you.

Home Base CEO retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond joins Fran Racioppi from the 2023 Army Navy Game.

Thank you for everything you did. Thank you for your service and your leadership. For guys like me who served under officers like yourself, it’s important and inspirational to see the career that you had, not only in the military but then to carry that forward and do what you’re doing today at Home Base, continue to make an impact. Truly why we serve is to make an impact on those around us and those who come after us. Thank you very so much for continuing that mission.

Thank you for your service and for continuing to spread the good word like this.

I love it. It’s fun. It doesn’t feel like work. Thank you.


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