944th FW medics boast legacy of pride

The 944th Fighter Wing has long been proud of its standard of excellence. No matter what they’ve come up against, the determination and dedication of the men and women of the 944th have always led the way to victory. This mentality is quite clear when looking at the medical personnel of the wing. When the 944th was first established as a troop carrier group in 1963, they were without a medical squadron. Not until the 68th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron was assigned to the group, did they finally receive a proper medical unit. The 68th AES was instrumental in aiding the group with all the medical care that its personnel required. They had exceptional Airmen in their ranks, including Capt. Charlotte Meintjies, who was designated as the Outstanding Flying Unit Reserve Nurse for 1971. Her exceptional dedication to duty included a 185-day tour to Southeast Asia and several 90-day tours of active duty with the 68th AES. She was also one of the first nurses to be qualified as a Military Airlift Command C-141 flight nurse.

The caliber of dedication Meintjies displayed has carried on through the decades in the medical personnel of the 944th. In 1973, the 944th participated in one of its most celebrated missions – to return 20 former POWs home from Vietnam. Operation Homecoming was a privilege for the members of the 944th to participate in. The 68th AES was a prominent participant in this mission, sending 14 members, including the 68th AES commander, three flight nurses, and 10 medical technicians. Their vital participation was crucial to the successful return of the 20 service members recently released from the hellish conditions of POW camps of North Vietnam. As noted by Col. Edward Nugent, 10th AES commander, the 68th medical crew’s professionalism “warrants [my] highest praise.”

Unfortunately, with the deactivation of the 944th at Norton Air Force Base, California, so too came an end to the great deeds of the 68th AES. But the medical prowess of the 944th would come to fruition once again in 1987, when the group was reactivated at Luke Air Force Base in the 944th Tactical Fighter Group, as the 944th Tactical Clinic, later redesignated the 944th Tactical Hospital in 1990. During this time, the 41st Medical Services Squadron was activated within the hospital.

The 1990s saw a great period of change for the medical units within the 944th. The 41st MDS eventually became the 944th Aeromedical Staging Squadron and in 1995 was the first of its kind to complete an Operational Readiness Inspection away from home station and receive an overall rating of Outstanding.

In 1996, the 944th Medical Group was deactivated, leaving the 944th Medical Squadron and the 944th ASTS aligned directly under the 944th FW. However, this did not stop both squadrons from continuing their legacy. Both the medical and aeromedical staging squadrons continued to excel in their duties.

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