17th Medical Group commander: Col. Derek Larbie

  • Published
  • By By Senior Airman Michael Bowman
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs

Growing up in Ghana, West Africa, Derek Larbie shadowed his mother who ran a maternity home for mothers to come and deliver their babies while receiving the necessary medical care.

Larbie helped his mother manage the pharmaceuticals for her clinic. He would go out into the city visiting various pharmacies to gather the medicines before returning to the clinic, where he would package and prepare each patient's medication based upon their required treatment. As Larbie and his sisters assisted their mother, he realized his passion for medical care.

“I knew I wanted to serve in uniform, but I really wanted to be able to help the sick,” said Larbie. “I had always thought of myself as becoming an Army physician, that was my goal from the beginning.”

As a student, Larbie took every opportunity to prepare to become a military physician after graduation. As Larbie progressed through high school, he enrolled in the cadet corps, a program akin to Reserve Officers’ Training Corps or ROTC. He went on to graduate from the University of Ghana with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and chemistry before moving to the United States to pursue a doctoral degree in industrial pharmaceuticals.

“I figured that I could go to the United States to study the production and manufacturing of pharmaceuticals,” said Larbie. “Then I would be able to come back to Ghana and start a company that would begin making drugs that I knew were very important back home.”

With a firm plan in mind, Larbie moved to the United States, but he would soon learn that his path to the armed forces was anything but straightforward. Larbie planned to study a doctoral degree in Industrial Pharmaceutics at the University of Texas at Austin, but wound up pursuing a master’s degree in cell and molecular biology, at the University of Texas at Dallas. He had to abandon the program after two semesters due to a series of unexpected personal challenges.

Larbie found himself working various jobs in the food service industry, as well as housekeeping in local hospitals as he developed a new pathway towards his goal of becoming a medical provider. Eventually, Larbie got a job at an industrial laboratory preparing and analyzing organic and inorganic compounds for city planners and engineers. While climbing the ranks at the laboratory, Larbie was considering his next step. After applying to multiple medical and pharmacy school programs he found himself at the University of Houston in a Doctor of Pharmacy, or PharmD degree program.

In in his last year of schooling, Larbie’s class was visited by Army and Navy recruiters offering incentives for officer candidates. Larbie was excited to finally get his shot at becoming an Army pharmacist, but found himself wondering why the Air Force had not sent a recruiter to meet him and his classmates. Out of curiosity, Larbie contacted his local Air Force recruiting station to learn more about his options.

Larbie’s experience with the Air Force recruiter was one he will never forget. After learning about the rigorous standards and high expectations, Larbie knew he wanted to become a member of the world’s greatest Air Force.

“I wanted to be among the best of the best,” said Larbie. “So I joined the Air Force.”

More than 24 years later, Col. Larbie serves as the 17th Medical Group commander, where he uses his experience as an officer, technical expertise, and unique background to provide exceptional leadership and medical service at Goodfellow AFB. 

“It’s never been a regrettable decision,” said Larbie. “I’ve enjoyed every bit.”

Even while serving as a commander, Larbie takes the time to share his story with any Airman, sharing the lessons he has learned throughout his career on how to constantly improve as an officer and a medical professional. 

Larbie strives to inspire his Airmen as he pushes forward as the 17th MDG commander, proving that no matter what your background, with hard work and dedication you can achieve career success as a professional Airman.