Story and photo by Sgt. William Smith
4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office
A physical therapist gave up his six-year practice to serve his country as an enlisted Soldier, to better understand and treat Soldiers’ injuries before taking his next step — becoming a captain.
Capt. Joel Hanna, who holds a doctorate in physical therapy, received his commission this week after serving as a health care specialist for about two years.
“He has done nothing but help whoever needed it,” said Staff Sgt. Chris Pollock, noncommissioned officer in charge, aid station, 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
“When I asked him why he wanted to become enlisted instead of an officer, straight off he said he wanted to get the experience of what it was like to be enlisted first,” said Pollock.
“He has been outstanding on a medic level … He is always outgoing and willing to help with anything that he can. Any time we had a question, he was right there with an answer, or would go out of his way to find it if he didn’t know. He taught us the different exercises for therapy or how to test for back spasms, muscle injuries, all of that kind of stuff. He was always willing to teach anyone as many times as necessary.”
Even though Hanna, who served with 7th Sqdn., 10th Cav. Reg., was aware he could have been commissioned to a captain right off the bat, he said he wanted to learn to be a Soldier first.
“I wanted to consider a route where I could start out on the bottom and work my way up a little bit,” Hanna said. “They say that you can take the easy road or you can take the hard road. I think
taking the hard road, long term, is going to be more beneficial; you are going to learn more, you’re going to grow more and get all that experience. By that time, you get to your goal.”
Hanna said he had to get through some closed doors to make this year’s selection board to be promoted.
“When I decided to switch over to an officer, I talked to three different recruiters, and they said that I had to wait until next year because there wasn’t enough time left before the board was held in February,” Hanna said.
Then, Hanna finally found a door that opened for him.
“It usually takes us 90 days to commission someone into the medical corps,” said Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Weydemuller, health care recruiter, U.S. Army Medical Recruiting Center, Aurora. “With Hanna, we did it in about two weeks. It just showed how much he wanted to make that transition into becoming a medical officer. I didn’t want him to wait another year to be promoted. To me, this is hard work paid off.”
Weydemuller said he has never promoted someone like Hanna.
“This is the first time I have promoted someone who has a doctorate degree from enlisted, as a specialist, to the rank of captain,” Weydemuller said. “I think because of the way he came into the Army, that his leadership is going to be amazing, because he knows what it is like to start from the bottom. He came in enlisted, not knowing what to expect and wanting to learn how to be a Soldier so he could better take care of them later; to me that is incredible.”
Hanna will be missed by those with whom he has already worked.
“I would love to work for him in the future,” Pollock said. “I don’t care if he is my boss or my subordinate; I have nothing but respect for him. He has earned the respect of everyone he has come into contact with. I would like for him to stay, but I am happy for him. I am losing a great Soldier and a great friend, but I am glad that he is furthering his career. Whoever he gets to work with should feel pretty privileged.”
Hanna is currently attending officer basic course in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Upon completion, he will be stationed at the U.S. Army Medical Department in Fort Drum, N.Y., as a physical therapist.