Buffalo, NY - Joseph M. Hanna MSA ’18, MS ’20, was watching the CBS program “60 Minutes” when he was struck by the number of U.S. military men and women fighting in Iraq during the troop surge of 2008. In that program, and later in an article he read, Hanna – an avid golfer – learned that a favorite activity and stress reliever for many of the troops was to hit golf balls in the Iraqi desert. A light bulb went off.
“I thought about their service and the sacrifices they make every day to protect our freedom and wanted to do something to give back in appreciation,” Hanna explains. “The least I could do was to collect some golf balls and clubs for the troops to use – and here we are today as a global non-profit.”
Today, that non-profit, Bunkers in Baghdad, collects and sends new and used golf balls, clubs and equipment to U.S. troops around the world, with a focus on those currently serving in combat zones. Since Hanna sent his first shipment in 2008, Bunkers in Baghdad has provided more than 13 million golf balls and one million-plus clubs to troops deployed in the Middle East, Asia and Europe. An associated program, Bunkers Buddies, enlists students from schools across the country to help with fundraising, equipment collections and letter writing to the troops.
The charity is 100 percent volunteer run and supporters include national retailers such as Callaway and TopGolf, as well as professional golfers, entertainers, athletes - and even U.S. presidents. For Hanna, the charity seems to fit like a well-worn golf glove.
Growing up in Buffalo, Hanna attended Canisius High School and took an early interest in golf and other sports. He went on to graduate summa cum laude from the University at Buffalo and cum laude from University at Buffalo Law School.
In 2005, he was the first associate hired right out of law school by Goldberg Segalla, a law firm headquartered in Buffalo where Hanna quickly rose to partner and ultimately into leadership as a member of the firm’s management committee and hiring partner. He chairs the firm’s national Retail and Hospitality and Sports and Entertainment practice groups, as well the firm’s Diversity Task Force, which promotes diversity in the legal profession within the firm and across the country. The firm has been a major supporter of Bunkers in Baghdad from its inception.
As Hanna rose through the ranks of the legal world, those outside the profession also took notice of his talents. In 2017, Shawn O'Rourke, PhD, chair of the Department of Sport Management at Canisius College, asked Hanna to teach a class as an adjunct professor. He saw Hanna’s deep legal experience in sports management, including his work with pro athletes, as a good fit for the department. Hanna saw a learning opportunity to aid in his law practice and enrolled at Canisius himself to earn a master’s in sport administration, then a master’s in sport product development from Canisius.
“I was learning in real time and utilizing that knowledge to supplement my experience in sports and entertainment law,” Hanna says. “At the same time, the knowledge I gained at Canisius helped sharpen my skills in the non-profit sector as president of Bunkers in Baghdad.”
Hanna, now residing in Williamsville with his wife, Meghann and his two sons, Joey and William, sees Bunkers in Baghdad continuing to roll well into the future.
“There are U.S. troops and veterans all over the world who deserve our appreciation,” he concludes. “As long as we have requests for golf balls and clubs, Bunkers in Baghdad will be here to help.”