Mobile army surgical hospital (United States)
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The Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) refers to a United States Army medical unit serving as a fully functional hospital in a combat area of operations. The units were first established in August 1945, and were deployed during the Korean War and later conflicts. The term was made famous in the novel, movie, and television series M*A*S*H, which depicted a fictional MASH unit. The U.S. Army deactivated the last MASH unit on February 16, 2006. The successor to the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is the Combat Support Hospital.
World War I
A precursor to MASH units, the American Expeditionary Force Mobile Hospital No.1 was established following the example of the French military automobile-chirurgical units shortly after the American entry to the war.
World War II
Principles for a mobile medical unit and their implementation were established through trial and error in the dental field during World War II by Major Vincent P. Marran, medic in Patton's Third Army. The effectiveness of his efforts were widely admired and supported by the command structure, but no formal designation was established.
Formally the MASH unit was conceived by Michael E. DeBakey and other surgical consultants as the "mobile army surgical hospital." Col. Harry A. Ferguson, the executive officer of the Tokyo Army Hospital, also aided in the establishment of the MASH program. It was an alternative to the random individual systems of portable surgical hospitals, field hospitals, and general hospitals used during World War II. It was designed to get experienced personnel closer to the front, so that the wounded could be treated sooner and with greater success. Casualties were first treated at the point of injury through buddy aid, then routed through Battalion Aid Stations for emergency stabilizing surgery, and finally routed to the MASH for the most extensive treatment. This proved to be highly successful; during the Korean War, a seriously wounded soldier who made it to a MASH unit alive had a greater than 97% chance of survival once he received treatment.
In 1997, the last MASH unit in South Korea was deactivated. A deactivating ceremony was held in South Korea, which was attended by several members of the cast of the M*A*S*H television series, including Larry Linville (who played Frank Burns), and David Ogden Stiers (who played Charles Winchester).
MASH units continued to serve in various conflicts, including the Vietnam War.
During the Gulf War, in September 1990, the main body of the 5th MASH, 44th Medical Brigade, XVIII Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, deployed to King Abdul-Aziz Air Base, Royal Saudi Air Force, Daharan Saudi Arabia and was the first fully functional Army hospital in the country. Their Forward Surgical Team (FST) and Advanced Party had deployed in mid August to Daharan. This unit moved forward six times, always as the first up hospital for the region. In February 1991, the 5th MASH was operationally attached to the 24th Infantry Division to provide forward surgical care (often right on the front battle lines) to the combat units that attacked the western flank of Iraqi army. In March 1991, the 159th MASH of the Louisiana Army National Guard operated in Iraq in support of the 3rd Armored Division during Operation Desert Storm.
Other MASHs that served in 1990–91 included the 2nd MASH, 1st Medical Group, Benning; the 10th MASH, 1st Medical Group, Carson; the 115th MASH (DCARNG); the 475th MASH (341st Med Group, KY USAR); the 807th MASH (341st Med Group, KY USAR); and the 912th MASH (TN USAR).
War on Terror
The 212th MASH — based in Miesau Ammo Depot, Germany — was deployed to Iraq in 2003, supporting coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was the most decorated combat hospital in the U.S. Army, with 28 campaign streamers on the organizational colors. The 212th MASH's last deployment was to Pakistan to support the 2005 Kashmir earthquake relief operations. The U.S. State Department bought the MASH's tents and medical equipment, owned by the DoD, and donated the entire hospital to the Pakistani military, a donation worth $4.5 million.
Conversion to Combat Support Hospital
The 212th MASH's unit sign now resides at the Army Medical Department's Museum in San Antonio, Texas.
The Korean War played a great role in defining MASH units. High casualties in the front line called for onsite paramedic care, such as ambulances and medical tents. Having learned from World War II that transporting wounded soldiers to rear hospitals was highly inefficient in reducing mortality rate, MASH units were established near front lines to supply mobile and flexible military medical care. They contributed to making improvements in resuscitation and trauma care, patient transport, blood storage and distribution, patient triage, and evacuation. Aeromedical evacuation system was developed to transport soldiers by aircraft at a quicker pace. Helicopters were frequently used as "air ambulances" during the Korean War. The Bell H-13 was a dominant medical evacuation aircraft during the war. Military doctors stabilized wounded soldiers midair, before getting them to field hospital. MASH onsite paramedic care and air ambulance system decreased post evacuation mortality from 4% in World War II to 2.5% in the Korean War.
MASH units played an important role in the development of the triage system; a technique that underscores emergency room (ER) medicine in hospitals today.
The system allows for caregivers to prioritize patient's wounds and injuries in order to get those who are severely injured treated as soon as possible. The patient's status is determined an overview of their respiratory, perfusion, and mental status. The current triage system consists of color-coding; each patient (and at times their different wounds) are tagged with either a black, red, yellow, or green tag.
Black Deceased or so severely wounded that there is no hope for survival. Red Requires immediate treatment in order to survive. Yellow Not in immediate danger but requires medical care. Requires observation. Green Wounds or injuries that aren't completely disabling. Referred to as "walking wounded."
While the concept of triage had been used years before the Korean War, it wasn't until MASH units put it into real practice that the idea was fully developed. World War I and World War II saw the introduction of chemical weapons, such as mustard gas, which created a large influx of casualties and the need for more organization. Triage was first performed on the soldiers at battalion aid stations. Those who worked in the stations, be they nurses or medical officers, used the system to determine which soldiers needed further care/treatment and which soldiers could go back onto the battlefield. The soldiers that needed further treatment were then transferred to the MASH units to undergo triage once more. This time, nurses and doctors would work to prioritize who needed to be taken into surgery first; if it appeared that the soldier wouldn't survive much longer without surgery they were prioritized. MASH units typically followed the saying, "life takes precedence over limb, function over anatomical defects", a phrase which essentially means that they had to repair the most serious defect first. This thought process has since rolled over to the modern technique of triage in ERs nationwide.
In popular culture
The MASH unit made its way into popular culture through the 1968 novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker, the 1970 feature film based on the novel, and the long-running television sitcom (1972–1983) also based on the novel. A 1953 film, Battle Circus, also took place at a MASH.
Out of necessity, the "4077th MASH" unit depicted in the novel, movie, and television series was smaller than real MASH units. The fictional 4077th consisted of four general surgeons and one neurosurgeon, around 10 nurses, and 50–70 enlisted men. In an average 24-hour period, they could go through 300 wounded soldiers. By comparison, the 8076th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital had personnel including 10 medical officers, 12 nursing officers, and 89 enlisted soldiers of assorted medical and non-medical specialties. On one occasion, the unit handled over 600 casualties in a 24-hour period.
- List of former United States Army medical units
- NORMASH, a Norwegian MASH unit during the Korean War.
- 45th Portable Surgical Hospital
- Battle Circus (1953 movie)
- Combat Support Hospital
- Field hospital
- M*A*S*H (1970 movie)
- M*A*S*H (1972–1983 TV series)
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- Major V.P. Marran, medic with Patton's Third Army (firefall editions, 2010)
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Air evacuation undoubtedly contributed to the dramatic reduction in the death rate of wounded soldiers in the Korean War, compared with previous conflicts (World War I, 8.5%; World War II, 4%; and Korean War, 2.5%)
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.|
- Office of Medical History for the U.S. Army Surgeon General
- NPR Audio: Last U.S. MASH Unit Handed Over to Pakistan
- MASH Units
- The short film Big Picture: Pictorial Report is available for free download at the Internet Archive