Serving Nation and State: W.Va. doctor's storied 46-year career

CHARLESTON, W.VA. -- Lt. Col. John Lackey is seen as a fixture in the 130th Medical Group here at McLaughlin Air National Guard Base, where many people cross paths with the happy-go-lucky, white haired 65-year-old flight physician, but most don’t know his story. Lackey has 42 years of treating patients, delivering babies, performing surgeries to name a few, but there is much more to his story than that.

It all started in 1971 when Lackey was drafted by the Army Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR) as a private during the drawdown of the Vietnam War. Little did he know then, that it was the beginning of a journey that would turn him into a doctor, giving him the opportunity to travel the world and use his skills to treat and impact the lives of thousands of patients.

Four years later, John Lackey made his way to active duty by 1975, which initiated his road to a commission when we was sent to flight surgery school at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

That’s when he was gifted “the bag.” The bag, while ordinary to some, is one that carries special meaning to Lackey. It’s one that he has carried with him to all corners of world and was gifted to him in his first weeks of medical school. Throughout all 42 years of treating patients, the old beat up bag has been with him every step of the way.

“I love that old bag, it’s got stuff from everything I’ve ever done!” Exclaimed Lackey. “I’ve taken care of patients on every continent on Earth except Antarctica with that bag, and my career isn’t over yet so don’t count that out!”

Upon graduating, Lackey, along with that “old bag” started their journey at Fort Hood as a flight surgeon intern at Water-Reed Military Hospital for the 502nd Combat Aviation Battalion. He worked through his internship and eventually worked his way up the ranks in the Army before landing as the 6th Air Cavalry Surgeon.

After his work as the 6th Air Cavalry Surgeon, Lackey was on the move again, doing stints as an Ophthalmologist at Walter-Reed and then on to Fort Knox for two years.

The military lifestyle can take a toll on people and the family life, so Lackey made the choice to leave active duty in 1987.

“All I ever wanted to do was come back to West Virginia and practice medicine at home,” Lackey explained. “And I really just wanted to be here to raise my family.”

But a few years later he got a call that sent him overseas.

“I’ll never forget, we were sitting there on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, 1990,” said Lackey. “And I got called up from the IRR to report to Aberdeen Proving Grounds and very shortly after I touched ground in Saudi Arabia.”

That’s where Lackey would spend the next eight months, serving as an Ophthalmologist, general medical officer and flight surgeon for the 1st Special Forces Group throughout the middle expeditionary area of Desert Storm.

This deployment changed his career forever. It wasn’t the deployment itself, but it was the subtle differences between the Army and Air Force in the operational environment that swayed his decision.

“Goodness we came into and Air Force unit, and they had it all,” explained Lackey. “They had porcelain showers tucked into tractor trailers, a Burger King and Pizza Hut on the flight-line and even hotels that they got to stay in.”

“That’s when I said, ‘that’s it, when I go back in, I’m going Air Force,’” said Lackey.

Lackey would then leave the Army for good, and spent his time from 1991-2008 as a civilian, using his skills from the Army and practicing medicine throughout West Virginia and eventually opening his own practice.

Then in 2008, he started to realize that he missed the military and reflected back on his time in the Army, so he began the process of joining the 130th Airlift Wing.

During this process, he ran into a problem - Lackey was overweight and couldn’t join because of medical reasons, so he set his heart on serving the people and dropped a whopping 130 pounds.

It took two long years of hard work and dedication to his goal, but finally on August 15, 2010 he became a member of the West Virginia Air National Guard.

“I just wanted to serve, and I’m going to as long as they let me!” Lackey explained. “The finest people I’ve ever been associated with my life are in the military and they deserve the finest care that we can give them, and I know I can do that, so I’m going to!”

And that’s exactly what he plans to do. Representing part of the Air Force Core Value “service before self” Lackey takes his time to serve the WVANG community. Although he could very much keep practicing medicine on his own, he wants to be able to help the service members and hand down a wealth of knowledge to the next generation of Medical Group Airmen.

In his civilian life, Lackey is also a professor at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg, where he’s taught since 1984. He takes students from all three of the state’s medical schools, all while running his own practice and serving as a traditional Guardsman one weekend a month.

When asked if he had any comments about the 130th, he explained with just a few words, “This unit is just so special.”

Lackey’s wealth of knowledge in the medical field and work in various branches and reserve components of the military add special value to his membership in the WVANG. He is the epitome of Guard service today, utilizing his civilian experience to bring invaluable skills to the all-volunteer force that is the Air National Guard.
USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.