By Crystal Allen
Leader’s Training Course
Capt. Patricia Cruz decided to become a physical therapist because of a friend’s old football injury.
Her friend was playing football his sophomore year of high school. As he started to throw the ball, he was tackled, pushing his arm back and dislocating his shoulder.
Physical activity was a big part of his life, but even after his arm was fixed he still couldn’t use it properly because it would often continue dislocating. He had to give up most physical activity that required the use of his arm, and it began to affect him emotionally, spurring suicidal thoughts.
That’s when Cruz chose to be a physical therapist. She wanted to help others to regain their physical capabilities.
“That was a role I wanted to play in someone’s life to make sure they didn’t end up like he did,” she said.
Cruz is helping make a difference in the lives of Cadets at the Leader’s Training Course this summer. As the medical operations executive officer, she is charged with making sure medical personnel working the course are where they need to be, treating a few patients and controlling the communication between the medical staff and others.
When she was younger, Cruz, who moved from the Philippines to the United States when she was 5, wanted to join the Army. But first she had to earn her citizenship.
She was attending Ithaca College in New York on 9/11. The attacks fueled her desire to serve.
Cruz took an oath of citizenship two weeks after Sept. 11 at a courthouse just two blocks from Ground Zero. Instead of taking a train into the city as she normally would, her dad drove her. She remembers there still were remnants from the attacks and dust on the cars and streets.
“It was pretty emotional because it was the first ceremony they had since 9/11,” she said.
After finishing her undergraduate degree at Ithaca, Cruz enlisted in the Army at age 21. She commissioned three years later after completing graduate school.
“My family came from the Philippines, so I thought it was really important for at least one person in my family to serve in the military,” said Cruz, adding that there were more opportunities for her family in the United States and she felt a desire to serve her new homeland.
Cruz holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physical therapy from Ithaca College. She chose to serve as an Army Reservist because, at the time, her only option for being a physical therapist was as a civilian. The position wasn’t available in the Army.
Outside of LTC, Cruz works at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., where she treats patients as a physical therapist and oversees the hospital’s interns.
Transitioning from civilian to Soldier isn’t hard. Cruz always makes sure to do what she needs to get the job done.
“I’ve always been pretty good at adjusting to my environment,” Cruz said. “I always say, ‘If I have a bed and indoor plumbing, I’m happy.’ ”
Working at LTC requires more adjustment because she is doing something she’s never done before. Instead of focusing on patients, her focus is communication within the medical office environment.
Maj. Maria Pescatore, an LTC nurse and the U.S. Army 1st Brigade nurse counselor, met Cruz in March at the Army Reserve Medical Communication Conference for the Leader’s Training Course. They’re working side-by-side this summer.
Pescatore calls Cruz a key asset and is effective at juggling many tasks.
“She’s all over the place, but she maintains kind of control over everything that’s going on in med ops,” Pescatore said. “A few times, it’s pulling teeth to just drag her out of here to go to dinner or to stop.”
Pescatore admires Cruz’s knack for multi-tasking. But one goal Cruz hasn’t fulfilled yet is starting a family because of her lack of time.
She married Justin Ritley almost two years ago, and her plan is to one day have children. To Cruz, all the hard work is worth it because she has the chance to work with Soldiers, mentor them and see them succeed.
“No matter what position I get in the military, I get to help Soldiers,” she said. “That’s why I joined.”