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MDG 50th Anniversary

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Leanna Partin and Senior Airman Riley O’Connor
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Over the past 50 years, the 56th Medical Group at Luke Air Force Base has played a pivotal role in shaping medical history. From advancements in aerospace medicine to cutting-edge technologies in healthcare, this group has been at the forefront.

The commitment of the 56th MDG stands as a testament to their dedication to advancing medical practices and safeguarding the health of service members of the past and present. Along with ensuring the health and well-being of military families and retirees, the 56th MDG has contributed to breakthroughs in trauma care and infectious disease management.

The initial ribbon cutting ceremony to open services took place 50 years ago in 1974. It began as an inpatient hospital and in 2005, transitioned to an ambulatory outpatient clinic.

In 1993, the 56th MDG trauma team responded to an off-base accident resulting in more than 40 injuries and provided care to the injured victims.

Two years later, a train derailed an hour outside of Buckeye, in the center of the Arizona desert, causing passenger cars to fall off a bridge into a dry riverbed. Luke AFB’s medics aided in triaging over 70 people and providing critical medical care.

In 2002, due to a shortage of Obstetricians, the 56th MDG had to suspend deliveries and partnered with Del Webb Memorial Hospital. In 2004, a patient presented to the former hospital ER, ready to have her baby and there was no time to facilitate a transfer. She was so ready in fact, the ER staff had to deliver her baby in the parking lot, in the backseat of her car.

A little over a year after this event, a huge tragedy struck. Hurricane Katrina caused severe damage to Keesler AFB. More than 75 of Luke’s Airmen deployed to support relief efforts in the wake of this storm. Medical personnel were tasked as part of an expeditionary medical support team to provide care for Keesler’s active-duty military members and their families. Soon after Hurricane Katrina, the 56th MDG deployed another medical team to the Caribbean islands. An 11-member team treated nearly 3,000 patients over the course of a week

Five years after these two deployments, Luke AFB medics arrived in Haiti for a humanitarian mission to assist over 10,000 people over a period of 10 days. Glasses were provided for 1,600 patients, dental extracted over 1,000 teeth, and over 25,000 pharmacy prescriptions were filled. All this managed to get done while living in field conditions.

Four years later, in 2018 a physical therapy technician from the 56th MDG administered lifesaving aid after he witnessed a car crash in Glendale. He pulled over to help and came upon a man experiencing a seizure. He used his training to recognize the sign of an obstructed airway and took measures to open the airway until the patient’s breathing normalized. The technician kept the airway open for the next five minutes until the ambulance arrived.

In 2021, at the height of a global pandemic, 50 56th MDG personnel deployed to Brooklyn, New York. They provided at least 235,000 Covid vaccines to the most affected region in the United States. While members were deployed, the 56th MDG clinic was half-manned, which made sustaining operations a challenge. In addition, the migration from an outdated electronic medical record to the newer MHS Genesis system was occurring, which posed another challenge to clinic operations. This did not change the outcome of our patient care, however, as we continued to persevere.

In the last three years, the 56th MDG has deployed over 130 members to countries across the globe, including: Germany, Afghanistan, Qatar, Kenya, and Cuba, as well as deployed to stateside in-garrison missions.

While supporting deployments across the world, the 56th MDG also supports the local community through educating and protecting community members. The West Nile Virus, Ebola, rabies, flu and swine flu, monkey pox, tuberculosis, and covid are just a few of the diseases the 56th MDG has combated over the past several years. The 56th MDG remains flexible in the face of constant changes in a world of infectious diseases while managing health protocols.

On average, the clinic sees 100,000 patients annually, and personnel continue to work hard to meet the needs of patients while ensuring quality care. Last year, the clinic prepared for the much-anticipated The Joint Commission inspection. The clinic has a legacy of exceptional performance, dating back to 1979, when the 56th MDG was honored by TJC for the quality of healthcare and national standards of excellence.

Along with medical care, Luke AFB’s 56th MDG has an active role in educating medics and first responders across the Air Force in one of the few facilities with a state-of-the-art simulation laboratory. Last October, the 56th MDG became the first Air Force site authorized to teach an eight-day Tactical Combat Casualty Care Course known as “T-Triple C.”

Accomplishments like these have earned the 56th MDG the USAF General Surgeon award for “best clinic of the year” multiple times. The lab has also been recognized as “Best Lab of the Year” across both civilian and military establishments, and continues to exceed expectations.

Accolades could not be won without people and the members of the 56th MDG throughout the years have been exceptional. Several have earned the award-winning title of “United Blood Services Hero.” While others have dominated in the world of sports. Members have won championships in volleyball, the Air Force marathon, basketball, softball, powerlifting, and flag football. One member even toured for a year with “Tops In Blue”.

Many of the active-duty personnel have remained on staff post-retirement.

Linda Earnest, 56th MDG women’s health clinic registered nurse, reflects on her favorite memory after 17 years in the Luke clinic. “Giving a young couple news of their positive pregnancy after nine years of being unsuccessful,” she said. “Their little girl will be two in February!”

Retired MSgt. Jesse Lagang, 56th MDG chemistry lab technician supervisor, reflects on his time after 23 years in the 56th MDG. “I was assigned to the 58th Medical Group, Air Combat Command (ACC),” he said. “We wore hospital whites, and a Dark Red baseball cap with 58th on the front. The medical group was very mobile and we had a 500-bed deployable hospital”

Retired MSgt. Lou Lobrigo, 56th MDG licensed practical nurse, reflects on the tragedy of 9/11 after 23 years in the 56th MDG. “The 56 MDG really came together as a team that day,” he said. “We were prepared to work together to keep our patients safe, the facility safe, and the wing safe. It was a memorable moment.”

From babies in the parking lot, to roadside life-saving measures, deploying across the globe to assist with natural disasters or worldwide pandemics, the 56th MDG and staff has been involved in many historical events. Reflecting on the past 50 years begs the question, “what will healthcare look like in another 50 years?”

The year 2074 seems so distant but the things accomplished in this moment and over the course of the next 50 years will build the foundation and pave the way for future generations to come. Every single 56th MDG Airman is a part of its collective history and are vital to advancing its future.