Ohio National Guard News

Celebrating Women's History Month

Military dentistry 'full-filling' career choice
for woman who always felt drawn to serve

Story and photos by Senior Master Sgt. Beth Holliker, 180th Fighter Wing Ohio National Guard

Lt. Col. Jennifer Ludwig, a dentist assigned to the 180th Fighter Wing, conducts a routine exam for Senior Airman Carly Sommers during a monthly unit training event, March 4, 2018. In her role as chief of dental operations for the 180th FW, Ludwig is responsible for the dental health and readiness of the more than 1,000 Airmen assigned to the wing, ensuring the force is ready at a moment’s notice and fit to fight.

Lt. Col. Jennifer Ludwig conducts a routine exam during a monthly unit training event, March 4, 2018.

Dr. Jennifer Ludwig replaces a bracket for a patient during an orthodontic appointment at one of Ludwig’s three civilian practices, Feb. 22, 2018.

Lt. Col. Jennifer Ludwig reviews X-rays during a monthly unit training event, March 4, 2018.

Dr. Jennifer Ludwig evaluates the bite of new patient during an orthodontic consultation at one of Ludwig’s three civilian practices, Feb. 22, 2018.

SWANTON, Ohio (03/21/18) — Driving nice cars and living the good life are often some of the reasons mentioned by high school students when asked why they want to be a medical professional, and for Lt. Col. Jennifer Ludwig, her reasons were no different.

“You get asked what you want to be, a lot, in high school,” said Ludwig, chief of dental operations for the 180th Fighter Wing. “A doctor seemed like a good answer, but medical seemed too cliché. My dentist and orthodontist seemed to really enjoy life and drove nice cars. You’re a teenager. Those reasons seem so trivial now, (but) this turned out to be a great career choice.”

Military service has long been a tradition in her family and Ludwig had always felt the draw to serve.

“My maternal grandfather quit high school and joined the Army, along with two of his brothers, during World War II,” Ludwig said. “My uncle served in the Navy and my father served in the Army.”

Considering a career in the U.S. Air Force, Ludwig looked into the Air Force Academy, but the curriculum did not align well with pre-dental requirements. She also considered joining the active-duty ranks, but decided to stay closer to home and pursue her education in the dental field.

It wasn’t until several years later, during her dental residency program, that the urge to serve her country surfaced again.

During her residency program, Ludwig had the chance to work with other dental professionals who were assigned, as dentists, to the Air National Guard.

After learning about their experiences and the opportunities available in the ANG’s dental field, Dr. Jennifer Ludwig raised her right hand and joined the Ohio Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing in January 2001, and never looked back.

Now, 17 years later and officer in charge of the wing’s five-person dental team, Ludwig couldn’t be more proud of her career choice.

“I really planned on completing my initial six-year commitment and then moving on,” Ludwig said. “But after six years, the 180th and the medical group became another family to me and I couldn’t leave. This is part of who I am and I’m not done yet.”

Ludwig and her team are charged with ensuring the dental health and readiness of the more than 1,000 Airmen assigned to the 180FW, sometimes conducting up to 75 dental exams in one training weekend.

“Our Airmen are required to be both physically and medically fit and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, and that includes dental health,” said Col. Kevin V. Doyle, 180th FW commander. “When we are deployed around the world and in the fight, we won’t always have access to advanced dental care and we don’t want our folks to be dealing with preventable dental issues or pain. We need them fit to fight.”

Not only has she led the charge to ensure 180th FW members are ready to meet worldwide mission requirements, Ludwig and her team have also been able to support missions closer to home.

“I love being challenged,” Ludwig said. “And one of the biggest challenges was a humanitarian mission we did as part of our Innovative Readiness Training (IRT), in Martin, Tennessee in 2013. The unmet dental need was unlike anything I had ever seen; heartbreaking and rewarding all at the same time. “

The 180th FW dental and medical teams participate in IRT events often, partnering with the Army, Navy and Marines to provide free, and much needed, medical care to at-risk communities around the country. The teams most recently participated in two IRT events in 2017.

Ludwig is a drill status guard (DSG) member, meaning that her military requirements are to participate in training weekends, once a month. In addition, DSG members must participate in at least two weeks of active-duty, military readiness training each year, as an operational reserve to the active-duty force, all while balancing their civilian careers and endeavors.

When not serving in her military capacity, Ludwig is an orthodontist serving the Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan areas, where she and her business partner operate three office locations in Lambertville, Michigan and in Sylvania and Monclova, Ohio.

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