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59th Medical Wing plays key role in AETC mission

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --

Located on the northern edge of Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, the 59th Medical Wing headquarters – Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center – has overlooked the 'Gateway to the Air Force" since 1942.

Developing into a leading medical treatment, education, training, and research organization, the facility evolved into the 59th MDW on July 1, 1993, the same day Air Training Command merged with Air University to forge the new Air Education and Training Command of today. Since then, the wing has played a key role in AETC’s mission of recruiting, training and educating Airmen to deliver airpower for America.

“We are proud to be part of first command and contribute to the AETC mission by not only providing world-class health care to our beneficiaries, but training and educating the future of Air Force Medicine,” said Brig. Gen. John DeGoes, 59th Medical Wing vice commander.

Educating Air Force Medicine

The wing’s postgraduate medical education function, merged with that of Brooke Army Medical Center under the San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium, provides a wide array of training programs ranging from general surgery to emergency medical services administration. At any given time, SAUSHEC has roughly 900 residents enrolled in 37 graduate medical education programs.

The wing is also the largest of 15 clinical training sites in the Air Force, graduating an average of 750 officer and enlisted students in various dental and allied health programs each year. Additionally, the 59th Training Group supports military medical service and readiness training for 12,100 students annually at the Medical Education and Training Campus on JBSA-Fort Sam Houston.

Cutting-edge capabilities

In addition to providing a full spectrum of health care services to beneficiaries in the San Antonio metropolitan area, the 59th MDW boasts unique capabilities and services including the Critical Care Air Transport Team Pilot Unit which has executive management over 118 active-duty, Guard and Reserve teams. CCATTs operate an intensive care unit in an aircraft cabin during flight adding critical care capability to the U.S. Air Force Aeromedical Evacuation System.

Another unique 59th MDW capability, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, began in the 1990s. The ECMO process circulates blood through a machine that removes carbon dioxide and adds oxygen back – thus bypassing and reducing stress on a patient’s damaged lungs. This technique allows diseased or injured lungs to heal.

It’s this capability that gives an Acute Lung Rescue Transport team the ability to transport critically-ill patients around the world. Originally used for neonatal care, the program expanded to include adult patients in 2012. The 59th MDW remains the Defense Department’s hub for the ALRT mission.

“The wing’s ALRT mission provides the DOD's sole capability to transport and care for extremely ill patients with pulmonary failure,” explained Col. Mark Ervin, 59th MDW operational medicine chief.

ALRT teams have flown life-saving missions to areas around the globe, including Colombia, Japan and Afghanistan, maintaining a critical wartime capability.

“Our specialists are able to maintain a robust experience that allows them to be ready on day one of the next conflict to stabilize, evacuate and sustain DOD casualties in severe pulmonary failure,” Ervin added.

Science and Technology

The wing’s chief scientist's office, science and technology, is the Air Force Medical Service’s largest and most productive research facility, with more than 300 research studies to date. The research program supports the Air Force through the development and performance of medical readiness training for expeditionary forces.

The majority of research and training protocols directly supporting the graduate medical and graduate dental program requirements, sustaining medical readiness, and building healthy communities. With a modern laboratory and advanced, state-of-the-art surgical and imaging equipment and simulation technology, ST has also extended the educational mission to teach lifesaving hands-on skills to special operational forces, and others who provide front-line medical support, Steel explained.

“Science and technology directly impacts the AETC mission. Our work has (also influenced) how military medicine is practiced today and has overflowed into the civilian sector. I am very proud of the work that has been done in science and technology over the years,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Steel, 59th MDW Science and Technology deputy chief scientist.

Important research initiatives over the years include traumatic brain injury treatment, wartime vascular injury management, diabetes management, combat casualty care, and critical care in aeromedical evacuation.

An innovative future

With a storied past, today the wing is paving the way for AETC and Air Force Medicine as it finds new ways to enhance the patient experience through process improvement and innovation. Home to the Gateway Performance System and Gateway Academy, the wing has saved the Air Force more than $20 million through process improvements over the past two years.

As the wing prepares to move its headquarters into the new Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, eyes remained focused on patients.

“We are pushing the envelope and inspiring Airmen to challenge what they see. By empowering them to make a difference, we are improving quality, safety and efficiency for our patients. I am proud of our past, but more excited about our future,” DeGoes said.

*Editor’s note-this article is part of a series focused on the roles AETC’s wings have played in the command’s first 75 years.