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Wilford Hall in 1960
Wilford Hall Medical Center's second major construction project to add 500 beds was completed in 1960. This added the A Wing to the facility then called USAF Hospital, Lackland. Three years later, the hospital was named Wilford Hall USAF Hospital after U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Wilford Hall. This marked one of the biggest landmarks in the building's heritage. The hospital is scheduled to be demolished after the new Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center is completed, further improving military medical care. (U.S. Air Force photo/Released)
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Wilford Hall now an ambulatory surgical center

Posted 9/15/2011   Updated 9/15/2011 Email story   Print story


by Matt Scales
59th Medical Wing Historian

9/15/2011 - LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Many times at a major event in a person's life such as a graduation, friends and family will tell stories of the graduate as a child or maybe even share photos from the person's life up to that point in their life. This is often done to pause and reflect on a positive past as they look forward to a bright future.

With the re-designation of Wilford Hall Medical Center to Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center (WHASC) effective Sept. 15, 2011 and the establishment of the San Antonio Military Health System (SAMHS), it is fitting to take a moment to look back at the history of Air Force medicine at Lackland Air Force Base before looking forward to the new and exciting opportunities the new SAMHS will bring.

Often referred to in history circles as a war baby, the first hospital established at Lackland Air Force Base opened its doors on June 7, 1942. Designated Station Hospital, San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center, as the name implies the hospital's first mission was simply to take care of the aviation cadets training at nearby Kelly Field. By the end of World War II however, the hospital had swelled to a 1,500-bed facility and had begun the ever familiar mission of being a regional care facility.

When one thinks of the changes the Base Realignment and Closure process has had on military medical facilities in the city of San Antonio, most think the cooperation between Brooke Army Medical Center and the 59th Medical Wing is a new thing. In fact, as early as January 1950, patients from what was then known as the 3700th Station Medical Squadron were sending some of their patients to be seen at BAMC. In March of 1996, all labor and delivery functions were consolidated at Wilford Hall.

The hospital as people know it today came about because of the Korean Conflict. With many soldiers, sailors, Airmen and Marines returning from the conflict needing medical attention, plans were drawn up to construct a new and larger medical facility which opened in 1957. Construction in 1960 added another 500 beds to the facility - now known as the "A" wing - and was followed by a name change on March 2, 1963, when after diligent work by Maj. Gen. (Dr.) James Humphreys Jr., the then named USAF Hospital, Lackland was redesignated Wilford Hall USAF Hospital after another USAF physician, Maj. Gen. Wilford F. Hall.

Like anything, especially in the military, life for the hospital continued to change. A final construction project in the 1970s and 1980s added the "D" wing to the hospital and allowed it to continue to keep its place as the leader in Air Force medicine. Such facilities would be needed through the years as Wilford Hall began seeing patients on air evacuation flights from conflicts all over the world. Operation Just Cause in Panama in particular gave the Air Force and Army a chance to show their ability to work together to provide the best in patient care when soldiers and Airmen worked together to ensure over 200 wounded service members returning from the operation were taken care of at both Wilford Hall and BAMC.

Wilford Hall continued to provide care to not only retirees and dependents but also to wounded warriors again after the Gulf War in 1991. In 1993, the Air Force decided to reorganize the facility as a numbered wing, choosing to assign the designation of a former WWII unit, the 59th Fighter Group. Under this new organization, hospital staff continued researching and treating Gulf War Syndrome as well as bringing new technology on line such as the stereolithography apparatus. This new technology allowed surgeons to begin to plan for procedures before a patient even entered the hospital.

As the hospital at Lackland Air Force Base looks forward to the newest development in its long history, it can be proud of the record it has amassed to this point. In addition to the developments mentioned above, through the years the staff of the hospital have treated world leaders, performed ground breaking and more importantly life saving medical procedures - all while training future medical professionals and maintaining readiness to leave San Antonio to support everything from hurricanes on the Texas coast to wounded warriors mere moments from the time they were wounded.

Change is rarely easy but always necessary for progression. As Airmen and Soldiers enter a new era of military medicine it will take time to learn each other's jargon and approaches to various scenarios. Airmen will learn that though their counterparts may refer to "Battle Buddies" and "Shipmates" while they have always known "Wingmen" in the end, we all will benefit from each other's knowledge and experience. Combining this knowledge will allow us to create a state-of-the art medical complex and integrate with top medical professionals from all services to keep moving medicine forward not only for the military but the nation as a whole. Just as operational forces have learned on the battlefield, by integrating our staff and resources, we will become more effective and efficient in treating the best patients in the entire world, no matter what color uniform they wear or used to wear.

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