PAWTUCKET – Mike Roose’s active military career has been over for six years. He is 29 years old and an Air Force veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Cumberland native is living a personal dream as strength coach for the Pawtucket Red Sox. But he can’t quite put his military career behind him.
“I visited the VA (Veterans Administration) hospital in Providence during the offseason,” Roose was saying on Tuesday afternoon when the PawSox opened their locker room to the media. “I want to offer them my experience as a physical trainer. I want to work with veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, guys who may be battling PTSD or depression. The VA people told me that some medical studies have shown that exercise can help relieve depression. They are formulating a program that could offer exercise and other forms of therapy to veterans who need some help. I hope to be part of that program.”
Roose appreciates how much four years in the Air Force shaped his life.
“I think my military service gave me the confidence and determination to chase my dreams,” he said. “It was definitely helpful to me. When I went off to college, I really wasn’t prepared for that challenge. After college, I joined the Air Force and when I came out four years later, I had a much better idea how to get things done. I would definitely recommend the military as an option for kids coming out of high school who aren’t sure what they want to do with their next step.”
Roose grew up in Cumberland and moved to Cape Coral, Fla. when he was 16 years old. A solid baseball player, he ended up attending Mars Hill College in North Carolina, where he started at third base as a freshman before a broken foot sent him back to Rhode Island, where he attended classes at CCRI, still chasing his baseball dream.
And then 9/11 happened. Roose, not sure of his own future at this point, was so affected by the terrorist actions against this country that he joined the Air Force within two weeks of the national tragedy.
“I was moved, inspired,” he recalled last summer in an article written by Times sports writer Brendan McGair. “Everyone thought I was crazy.”
Roose, 21 at the time, went through basic training in San Antonio, Texas before heading to an assignment in Georgia. He was sent to Iraq in 2003, just in time for the invasion that topped Saddam Hussein’s government. Roose spent three months in Iraq and then six months in Afghanistan.
“I was trained to be a MP (Military Policeman),” Roose recalled last week. “But then I was selected for a Counter-Terrorism program. I went to Iraq with the 820th Special Forces group. Our duties included convoy security and protecting the air base from terrorists and rocket attacks. To do that, we had to gather intelligence from the area surrounding the base, which meant we had to go out into the neighborhoods, talking to people, trying to get to the terrorists who were making bombs or shooting rockets at our planes. We had to cut the head off the snake. We kicked down some doors when we were scooping guns off the street.”
Roose, sitting in the McCoy Stadium trainer’s room, seemed transported back in time as he talked about his year in the Middle East.
“I still miss the excitement of being in a war zone,” he admitted. “I miss it a lot. You miss the friends you made, the teamwork that soldiers in combat develop. But I’m lucky because a baseball team is similar to the military. Soldiers and athletes both have similar goals. There are highs and lows during a baseball season, just as there are in a war zone. We travel together as a team, just like in the military. We build a bond as a team when we travel. Both soldiers and players keep things loose with a lot of humor. So there are similarities.”
Roose understands that his military career, and his exposure to the adrenalin rush that exists within a war zone, have changed him as a person.
“I learned to appreciate everything about life a little bit more after serving overseas,” he said. “My perspective on what is important has definitely changed. I came home and looked in the mirror and saw a stronger person than I had been before I went into the Air Force.”
Roose left active duty with the Air Force in 2005, earned a degree in exercise physiology at Florida State in 2009, and landed back in Rhode Island with the PawSox just one year later. His military background proved to be a key factor in obtaining a job in Boston’s minor league farm system. Pat Sandora, the minor league strength and conditioning coordinator for Boston, knew about Mike’s Air Force career and where he had served. Three days after graduating from Florida State, Roose accepted a summer internship with the Red Sox that quickly turned into a job with Pawtucket.
After settling in with the PawSox, Roose is intent on helping veterans, many of them his age, who are having trouble making a transition back into civilian life.
“Giving back to veterans is something I want to do,” he said. “I feel so helpless when I hear about veterans who can’t deal with their problems when they come home. A couple buddies of mine went through that. Guys end up killing themselves because they are depressed and don’t know the way out.
“If I can do anything to help veterans readjust, that would make me real happy,” Roose said.