PT Alumnus and Army General Speech Honors PT Association’s Early Days

Posted On October 24, 2018

Lt. General Michael Nagata, Director, Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning at the National Counterterrorism Center, majored in physical therapy (PT) at Georgia State University but chose a familiar family career path in the U.S. Army. The son of a retired Army colonel, Nagata earned his bachelor’s in PT in 1979, and although he didn’t make a career in PT, he credits his education at Georgia State with building the leadership foundation in his career.

The late Gordon Cummings, associate professor of physical therapy, profoundly impacted Nagata as a student. Cummings embodied the type of leadership that appealed to a young Nagata. Cummings mentored him, and in turn, Nagata asked Cummings to be his best man at his wedding a few years later. In 2006, the Gordon Seagraves Cummings scholarship was established to recognize Prof. Cummings’ dedication to his students.

Fellow Georgia State PT alumna Dr. Debbie Bryson Ingram, the American Council of Academic Physical Therapy (ACAPT) program committee chair and department head of the doctoral program in PT at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, asked General Nagata to be the keynote speaker for the 2018 Educational Leadership Conference co-sponsored by the ACAPT and the Academy of Physical Therapy Education. This year marks the 100 year anniversary of the creation of the reconstruction aides who provided rehabilitation to the U.S. military. They were civilian employees of the medical department of the U.S. Army during World War I. The reconstruction aides later formed the American Physical Therapy Association. With a military theme, the 2018 ELC program focused on ‘Our Leadership Landscape: Perspectives from the Ground Level to 30,000 feet.’

“The Mike Nagata that I knew in the 1970’s was destined to do great things. He won the outstanding graduate award for the PT class of 1979. I have followed his career over the years-especially after seeing him interviewed on the national news. I stand in awe of the many sacrifices he and others make every day to defend our nation.”

Nagata shared his leadership knowledge as the keynote speaker, presenting “Leadership in a Rapidly Changing World.” He spoke on the need for good leaders who have the vision to establish, cultivate and nourish the success of the individuals who work in any given organization. Nagata noted that better leaders rely on the experts in their team to make decisions, and by empowering them, one leader can effectively make multiple decisions.

“Leaders can effectively make two decisions a day, but if they delegate to a team and everyone makes two decisions, we make more decisions in the day,” says Nagata.

He also advocates for leaders to be ruthless in sharing information with direct reports increasing transparency.

So how does a superior student in physical therapy make the transition from PT school to fighting terrorism in the U.S. Army? Nagata says it was his keen sense of mission to protect his home and its citizens.

“I do not hate my adversary, I may dislike them, but I do what I do because I love my country, and I wish to protect my country.”

Nagata deployed to Somalia in the early 1990s and the Balkans later that decade, working in special operations. When assigned to Pakistan during a tumultuous time in 2009, he observed and correctly predicted the demise of Iraq, Syria and Yemen and the rise of the Islamic State.

His unique insight led to the assignment for creating strategies to defeat the Islamic State. Nagata consulted an unusual group of leaders outside of the Pentagon to find ways to understand the motivations of ISIS members. What he found wasn’t the answer he was seeking but another way of problem-solving. He says integration, not just collaboration and coordination, is vital in leadership. A team that can work together will defeat a team of superstars.