Performing cosmetic surgery may seem an unlikely duty for the doctors stations at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. But, by practicing plastic surgery techniques stateside, these military surgeons are better prepared to treat soldiers injured in combat overseas.
In the annals of warfare, the 59th Tactical Fighter Wing stands as a proud example of valor in defense of the nation. During World War II, the men of the 59th hunted Nazi U-boats off the coasts, and trained pilots to fly the P-39 and P-40 fighters into combat.
Today, as the 59th Medical Wing, the unit runs the Air Force’s largest medical facility, Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland AFB in San Antonio. Its mission is to provide complete medical care to military men and women — including plastic surgery.
The unit’s Plastic Surgery Flight, part of the 59th’s Surgical Specialties Squadron, performs reconstructive plastic surgery procedures for war fighters and others who are wounded during missions abroad. And to gain the experience in treating combat injuries, the dedicated men and women of the Plastic Surgery Flight perform 60 to 80 plastic and cosmetic surgeries each year — right here in the States.
The thought of military hospitals doing nose jobs and tummy tucks may seem strange at first — but not when you think about it. Lt. Col. Earl Ferguson, MD, a consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General, spells it out.
“Performing cosmetic procedures reinforces the surgeon’s knowledge of anatomy,” he says. “It’s difficult to restore an injured war fighter or trauma victim to their normal appearance if you do not routinely see normal.”
He has a point. After all, young surgeons need experience to gain the knowledge of surgical techniques. By performing common cosmetic and plastic surgery procedures here at home, the 59th’s surgeons gain valuable experience in soft tissue reconstruction of the face, abdomen, and other war wounds they might encounter when serving abroad.
And it’s not just knowledge for war. Skilled military surgeons frequently travel abroad for joint-forces training, disaster relief, and other humanitarian purposes, turning their skills to the repair of cleft lips, cleft palates, and injuries due to trauma or birth defects in children.
Many military surgeons are practicing doctors in civilian life as well, serving their country when called upon as part of the Reserve or National Guard. Your own plastic surgeon might very well be one of these. Meanwhile, The Plastic Surgery Channel salutes the men and women of the 59th Medical Wing for a job well done.