Mon, Feb 06, 2006 - Page 5 News List

US to shut down last MASH unit

AP , RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN

The US military said it plans to shut down its last MASH unit -- a mobile hospital made famous by a long-running US TV show about martini-sipping, wisecracking Army doctors saving lives and enduring the horrors of the Korean War.

The last MASH -- or Mobile Army Surgical Hospital -- is in Pakistan caring for survivors of the earthquake that hit the country in October. The Army will donate the 84-bed field hospital to Pakistan during a ceremony on Feb. 16, said Rear Admiral Michael LeFever.

"This is the last MASH unit in the United States Army," LeFever said Saturday at an air base outside of Islamabad. "We are excited that this MASH will live on in Pakistan."

The military is replacing MASH units with smaller, casualty surgical hospitals, said LeFever, who is commanding the US military's Disaster Assistance Center in Pakistan.

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

He added that the new approach involves making quick decisions in the field, stabilizing patients and then flying them to a bigger hospital.

The comic TV show, which aired in 1972-1983, drew critical praise for making the audience laugh while also reminding people of the tragedies of war.

The show starred Alan Alda as the martini-drinking joker, Dr Hawkeye Pierce, who was also staunchly anti-war and frequently criticized the conflict.

The unit was commanded by the easygoing, unwilling soldier Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake, played by McLean Stevenson, who died as he was flying home after finishing his service.

The cast also included Jamie Farr, as Max Klinger, the cross-dressing corpsman trying to get discharged on grounds of insanity.

On Saturday, LeFever said after the MASH is handed over to Pakistan, the personnel will return to their base in Dexheim, Germany, for training before being sent to Afghanistan.

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

The US 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 US military has been involved in," he said.

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