The incoming commander of the Army’s 2nd Medical Recruiting Battalion is bilingual: he “speaks medicine” and he “speaks military.”
Lt. Col. Brad Tibbetts, 45, a registered nurse and certified physician assistant, will take the helm of the battalion during a change of command ceremony Friday.
The battalion is responsible for recruiting healthcare professionals “to preserve the Army’s fighting strength,” according to its mission statement.
“My number one goal is to ensure that the Army has their required medical professionals to accomplish its missions,” Tibbetts said, noting that the battalion’s area of operations spans the Southeast. “I’d like to focus on how not to ‘rest on our laurels.’”
Recruiting efforts include offering scholarships to help fund medical school for those who have not yet completed their studies, and loan repayment to those who have, in exchange for a commitment to providing medical services in the military.
But the biggest key to successful recruiting is “personal interaction,” Tibbetts said. “The bulk of it is done by good, old-fashioned shaking hands – when we’re allowed to shake hands again.”
While social media and virtual engagements play a part in recruiting, it’s more about “getting face to face with someone who has an interest in joining,” due to an interest in money, patriotism and/or service to the country, Tibbetts said. “It’s a win-win.”
In addition to a need for medical professionals across the board, the Army has a critical need for specialists, including surgeons, nurse anesthetists, and oral maxillofacial surgeons, he said.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Tibbetts said he imagined himself in the Army as a boy whose favorite playthings were plastic green toy soldiers.
“I have a picture of me when I was 5 or 6 in Army gear,” he said. “I never knew what I wanted to be, but I knew it was going to be in the Army.”
His father and grandfather served in the Navy, said Tibbetts, who applied for and received a four-year Army ROTC college scholarship. “Here I am just shy of 23 years later, and happy that I did.”
He was commissioned in the Army Nurse Corps in 1998 upon graduating from Penn State with a bachelor’s in nursing. His first assignment was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he worked as a surgical nurse, an experience Tibbetts jokingly said was “trial by fire.”
He spent nearly 10 years at his next station at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, fulfilling both hands-on medical and leadership roles, first as an emergency medicine nurse at the 86th Combat Support Hospital, and later as civil-military officer for the Task Force Medical Falcon in Kosovo, and commander of Bravo Company. He helped establish the first operational Role 3 hospital in Iraq during the 2003 invasion.
Next, Tibbetts served as officer in charge of the Rascon School of Combat Medicine at the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. He deployed again to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005.
Upon his return, Tibbetts attended the Interservice Physician Assistant Program through the University of Nebraska and obtained his master’s in physician assistant studies in 2009.
The same year, he was assigned to Korea as the PA for the 6th Battalion, 37th Field Artillery, 2nd Infantry Division, followed in 2010 by an assignment as brigade surgeon for the 210th Fires Brigade.
His next assignments were as a PA for the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, and the senior PA for the “Rakkasans” of the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, which included a deployment to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, all while still stationed at Fort Campbell.
He attended the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 2014, followed by assignments as deputy division surgeon, clinical operations, 1st Armor Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, in 2015, and as command surgeon for the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, 2016-19.
In 2019, Tibbetts was assigned as program manager for the Senior Leader Sustainment Program at the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, where he worked until the move to the Arsenal early this month.
He enjoys both the medical and the military aspects of his job, which complement one another.
Being able to “speak” both medical and military language, “is to me the most challenging and motivating part of being in the Army,” he said. “They’re both challenging. They both have their own languages. You have to speak both languages and you get to be the translator.”
Nelson Ballew, chief of advertising and public affairs at the battalion, said having a medical professional as commander adds credibility to its recruiting process.
“Understanding not just the medical side but the operational side of medicine, being able to tell them ‘This is how it is,’ when they deploy, his story will resonate,” Ballew said.
Tibbetts and his wife of 13 years, Hyong Sun, live on the Arsenal.