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NEWS | Sept. 11, 2021

One Day a Civilian, the Next a Navy Commander

By Todd Hack, Navy Talent Acquisition Group Southwest

Navy medical officer recruiters mainly focus their attention to recent graduates who are looking for more financial stability in the private sector. These new doctors are looking to be inspired or to inspire others and look to make a global impact with their skills. The Navy may serve those dreamers with deployments to exotic locales traveling aboard vessels like the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) or caring for Sailors and Marines and their families.

There are also those particular physicians known as ‘unicorns,’ to recruiters because they are rare and difficult to find. They are doctors who have spent their lives perfecting their craft and still want to bring their skills to the military.

Dr. Joseph D. Ciacci, MD, is such a ‘unicorn,’ and one which Navy medicine is thrilled to welcome.

A board-certified Neurosurgeon and UC San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine Professor in the Department of Surgery, Ciacci instructs medical students, residents and fellows in the school’s Neurosurgery Residency Program. He specializes in Neurological Oncology of the Spine and Brain, while working at a Level 1 trauma Center, UCSD Medical Center and at Jacobs Medical Center at UCSD Health, and is also involved in the care of our Veterans as the Chief of Neurosurgery at Veterans Administration (VA) San Diego Healthcare System in La Jolla, California.

“The Navy recruits highly trained medical professionals who will use their critical skills to provide high-quality medical care to service members, their families, and when called upon, humanity at large,” said Lt. Cmdr. Any Brenes, Navy Talent Acquisition Group (NTAG) Southwest senior medical recruiter. “However, there are a few top subspecialties Navy recruiters are looking for such as General Surgery, Critical Care, Orthopedic Surgery, and of course Neurosurgery.”

Recruiting is not innate to many a Sailor, which is why all recruiters begin their career at Navy Recruiting Orientation Unit located on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. Recruiters draw on many things in their lives to meet the mission, but sometimes it can be who you know which could be the critical factor to finding a Sailor to meet the Navy’s requirements.

“Medical Officer Recruiter Lt. Thomas Britt in L.A. (Los Angeles, NTAG Pacific) reached out to me about a neurosurgeon who is beyond max-age (54), who wanted to join and serve,” said Lt. Jude Rosario, MSC, NTAG Southwest, Talent Acquisition Manager at Navy Officer Recruiting Station Lake Forest, California. “Apparently, Dr. Ciacci reached out to L.A. first because he didn’t know which recruiting district he was located in and Britt thought to contact me as we were friends from earlier in our careers.”

“Beyond Dr. Ciacci being a well-established physician, I first wanted to know why he wanted to don the uniform, especially with him being so accomplished and educated, basically ‘The Godfather of Neurosurgery’,” said Rosario. “When he told me he currently worked at the San Diego VA caring for veterans and wanted to continue to care for military members on a grander scale, as well as to educate future surgeons into leaders, I knew he was the kind of leader I wanted to bring into the Navy.”

Besides the opportunity to see the world, the Navy offers a variety of incentives for medical professionals such as sign-on bonuses, loan repayment, G.I. Bill for members or their dependents, VA home loans, annual bonuses based on specific specialty, among many others. But it was none of these incentives which drove Ciacci to add the Navy to his career. Being a native of New York City, he felt the need to serve because of the events on September 11, 2001.

“It struck me like it struck everyone else. I mean it’s been 20 years but it’s like it was yesterday,” said Ciacci. “It affected so many people and I think about all the heroes that rushed towards the Towers to try to rescue people and gave up their lives. All the families that were affected.”

“I feel that I don’t want to forget and don’t want anyone to be able to forget it,” said Ciacci. “I think that my commitment to serve is to honor the families of everyone who has gone before and to make sure we continue to remember and hopefully to inspire that service mentality and hero mentality in terms of rushing into danger to save others.”

For Ciacci, being commissioned as a Naval Officer on the anniversary of September 11th is honoring the heroes who put their lives at risk on that day and every day since for the last 20 years. With the commissioning date set he wanted a place to mean as much as the date, so the mention of the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum seemed like a perfect match.

Deputy Commander, Navy Recruiting Command/ Deputy Commander, Naval Education and Training Command Force Development Rear Adm. Robert Nowakowski heard about Dr. Ciacci’s upcoming commissioning ceremony to become a Navy Commander (O-5) in the Navy Reserve Medical Corps and wanted to offer his time to administer the Oath of Office.

“I knew this would be a great opportunity to promote Navy Reserve Medical Officer programs,” said Nowakowski. “I found he was also a graduate of Northwestern University, and thought ‘Small World’ and I knew we would have a lot to talk about.”

After 13 months of paperwork and gathering all the necessary documents, a white shirt became one with shoulder boards and he received a new hat with an officer’s crest to proudly cover his head. Dr. Ciacci assumed the new title Cmdr. Joseph Caicci, MD, Navy Reserve Medical Corps and assigned to Navy Reserve Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command San Diego.

“As a Navy Medical Officer recruiter, I am hoping that Dr. Ciacci can and will provide a bridge for us to communicate to his peers about the Navy's needs,” said Rosario. ‘It would be great to have his help in recruiting General Surgeons and Orthopaedic surgeons to serve in the Reserve alongside him.”

No matter how many people Cmdr. Ciacci helps recruit or helps in the surgical theater, September 11 and those who ran towards the danger are in his heart and on his mind.

“It’s kind of a 20-year story for all of us who were affected by it. I really don’t know anyone that wasn’t affected by it,” said Ciacci. “It started with the attack on the Twin Towers, then the Pentagon. In 20 years, so many brave service men and women and civilians have made that ultimate sacrifice to try to save others and make people safe. These last 13 service members that were lost at the airport in Kabul (Afghanistan). Marines, a soldier, a Navy Corpsman were really there just to do the same thing, which was to rescue people from danger. They manned the post and gave the ultimate sacrifice. We cannot absolutely not forget that. I am hoping I can dedicate my service to their memories and to their families.”

Renamed in December 2020, NTAG Southwest encompasses 210,000 square miles covering Arizona, Nevada and Southern California. Headquartered at Naval Base Point Loma, NTAG Southwest has three Talent Acquisition Onboarding Centers (TAOC Fleet City, TAOC Surf City and TAOC Paradise City) managing 43 Navy Recruiting Stations and Navy Officer Recruiting Stations in the tri-state region and employs more than 300 recruiters, support personnel and civilians.

For more news from NTAG Southwest, visit or Also you can follow the command on Facebook (, Twitter (@NRD_SanDiego) and Instagram (@ntagsw).

For more information on opportunities the Navy has to offer in the health care professional visit