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Sharpened Steel

Alumnus and Army surgeon shows depth of a military career in ad campaign

What's Your Warrior ad campaign

(Col. Roy Danks’ story of using his professional skills in the Army is represented by the Sharpened Steel character [top row, right] during a recent Army marketing campaign. Danks is a command surgeon for the Army Reserve, sees patients at two hospitals and owns a private practice.)

From The Ichabod - Fall 2021
By Angela Lutz

From working as a burn theater consultant in Afghanistan to caring for patients at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri, Col. Roy Danks, ba ’94, has never shied away from a challenge. While he has been a trauma surgeon for more than two decades, in 2006 he decided to take his career to the next level by joining the United States Army Reserve. While he anticipated certain aspects of Army life, such as travel and exposure to other cultures, being a soldier has also allowed him to hone his surgical skills, particularly his expertise treating burn patients.

“My most rewarding deployment was in Iraq in 2009 where we cared for a very critically burned Iraqi national and used some techniques that had never been used before, alone or in combination,” said Danks, who is a command surgeon for the Army Reserve Aviation Command at Fort Knox. “We were able to save his life. Throughout my career, I’ve used these opportunities as steppingstones to do more than I ever anticipated I would.”

Col. DanksOver the years, Danks’ military experience has been a significant boon to his work as a civilian surgeon. In addition to his position at Research Medical Center, Danks serves as medical director of trauma at Northeast Regional Medical Center in Kirksville, Missouri, and owns a private practice. While many urban or suburban doctors have resources and specialists readily available, crises can still arise. Danks has gotten better at responding to these stressful situations since joining the Army Reserve. He has also become a better leader thanks to strong mentorship and educational opportunities in the Army.

“My Army experience helps on the civilian side because in the deployed setting, you end up making a lot of adjustments given the conditions,” Danks said. “In the civilian world, we’re used to having everything we need, but as a trauma surgeon, the Army has taught me how to make adjustments, be better at critical thinking and think outside the box.”

To help college students and young people getting started in their professional lives learn about the breadth and depth of a military career, this year Danks was one of 12 diverse soldiers featured in the Army’s “What’s Your Warrior?” campaign. Danks is represented by a character called “the Sharpened Steel,” a doctor and soldier who uses his medical skills to save lives in the field. Danks also regularly speaks to medical students about possible trajectories their career could take that they might not have considered.

“I explain to young people that there’s the opportunity to be a soldier in the Army Reserve while also continuing your civilian career,” Danks said. “In reality, the Army is leading the way in trauma care. I look at that as one more feather in my cap, one more tool in my bag I can use in a civilian setting at some point.”

While Danks has traveled all over the world, he believes the foundation to his success started at Washburn. He entered the University as a non-traditional student and initially planned to study criminal justice and become a police officer. Then he took a biology course and fell in love with the sciences – and the rest is history.

“My undergraduate education was one of the greatest four years of my life,” Danks said. “I got into biological sciences, and the professors – I was honestly just enamored by them. They were so smart and so friendly. They wanted you to succeed. I would put Washburn’s education, especially in the sciences, up against any college in the nation. I had fun, and I learned so much.”

Danks’ former professors at Washburn remember him warmly as well. Ron Ash, professor emeritus, who taught biology at Washburn from 1987 to 2007, had Danks in multiple classes and served as his mentor and friend. The two worked on research projects together and pranked each other every April Fool’s Day, which Ash said was Danks’ favorite holiday.

“He was a serious student, but he had a very playful nature,” Ash said. “He was eager to learn and very disciplined. He’s had a very long career in surgery, but I knew he would do well from the start. When he was here, he was one of my favorites, and I still remember him fondly.”

As Danks’ career progresses, he remains dedicated to self-improvement. He recently completed flight surgeon school, and he aims to never stop pushing himself – and encouraging others to do the same.

"If you want to push yourself to be the best, then being a soldier in the Army Reserve is the perfect opportunity,” Danks said. “There’s nothing I look back and wish I hadn’t done. It’s all been rewarding.”

Spring 2022 The Ichabod cover. Sculpture on the lawn north of Memorial Union

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. View the current and past editions


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