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U.S. military to shut down last MASH army hospital

Sunday, February 5, 2006

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan -- The U.S. military is shutting down its last MASH, the mobile hospital made famous by the long-running TV show about martini-sipping, wisecracking Army doctors.

This month, the Army will donate the last Mobile Army Surgical Hospital to Pakistan where it has been caring for survivors of last year's massive earthquake, Rear Admiral Michael LeFever said Saturday at an air base outside the capital Islamabad.

"This is the last MASH unit in the United States Army," said LeFever. "We are excited that this MASH will live on in Pakistan."

The 84-bed, $4.5 million MASH unit includes a surgical suite with two operating tables, two intensive care units, a pharmacy, laboratory, radiology units and a power generation system, the military said.

The Army is replacing MASH units with smaller casualty surgical hospitals that sit closer to battlegrounds and the wounded, said LeFever, who is commanding the U.S. military's Disaster Assistance Center in Pakistan. Doctors in the new smaller units make quick decisions in the field and stabilize patients before flying them to bigger hospitals, he added.

"The MASH is a large facility, and it's usually set up in the rear," he said. "We're finding that in order to save lives, we have to be close to the front lines."

The TV version of "MASH" aired from 1972-83 and starred Alan Alda as Korean War Dr. Hawkeye Pierce, who frequently criticized the conflict.

After the last MASH goes to Pakistan on Feb. 16, its personnel will return to Germany for training before they are sent to Afghanistan.

The U.S. military plans to wrap up its relief mission in Pakistan by March 31, LeFever said.

"This has been by far the longest relief operation the U.S. military has been involved in," he said.

The Oct. 8 quake struck parts of Pakistani and Indian Kashmir and Pakistan's northwest, killing about 87,000 people and leaving millions homeless.

LeFever said U.S. aircraft have flown more than 4,000 sorties, delivering over 20 million pounds of aid. Medical units treated 30,000 patients.

The U.S. has committed a total of $510 million to Pakistan's quake relief and reconstruction, said Lisa Chiles, the mission director for USAID. The figure includes $110 million in military support for relief operations.


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