There's no "Radar" or "Frank Burns," but the "M*A*S*H"-like staff of the 144th Evacuation Hospital reports to I Corps, has had a head nurse nicknamed "Hot Lips" and a company clerk - add an l and skip the dress - named "Klingler."
The 144th and its crew of 408 part-time National Guard soldiers provided medical support for the Firex '88 exercise that is winding down at Dugway Proving Ground, Tooele Army Depot and Camp Williams.Soldiers who staff the "mobile army surgical hospital" were tearing down tents Thursday and Friday along with the 14,000 other Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers who participated in the two-week artillery exercise, but parts of the hospital are to remain operational into the weekend to make sure the soldiers returning home after a hot, dusty stay in the desert have medical attention available if their haste catches up with them.
There are some similarities between the I Corps evacuation hospital, based in Salt Lake City, and its motion picture/television counterpart hospital featured in "M*A*S*H," the movie and the TV series, said Sgt. Maj. Ronald L. Webb of the Utah Army National Guard. I Corps is still the segment of the Army that trains for war in Korea, and the Army still has MASH units in its hospital structure, he said.
Most of the other similarities are after-the-fact ties hospital personnel have made because of their interest in the "M*A*S*H" television series - like nicknaming the head nurse Hot Lips and putting a "Rosie's Bar" sign outside the hospital's PX.
Some of the high jinks even resemble the standard fare of hilarity on the TV series. Wednesday evening, for example, about six soldiers equipped with numbered flash cards gave scores to women emerging from the shower tent, Webb said.
Similar to Col. Henry Blake's fly tying and fishing and Col. Sherman Potter's horse and saddle, Col. Earl L. Duke, commanding officer of the 144th, also has his diversion from medicine and command. While rank-and-file soldiers got ready Thursday to bug out, Duke was found atop a piece of heavy equipment moving sandbags.
Duke, an obstetrician/gynecologist who practices in Logan, worked as a heavy-equipment driver during his college years, Webb explained, and still finds excuses to climb atop the big machinery.
An "evac" hospital is a step up in scale from MASH hospitals, as any self-respecting "M*A*S*H" watcher could readily point out. On the television series, Sydney visited "M*A*S*H" from the evac hospital. Patients treated at the 4022nd Mobile Army Surgical Hospital were often transported to the evac hospital after surgery, Webb pointed out.
Webb was on active duty with the Army during the Korean War and said the portrayals in "M*A*S*H" are accurate for the most part, except for the uniform laxities and long hair. "That was the '50s. Flat tops were in," he said.
Maj. Bruce Holley, the medical officer coordinating all medical efforts during Firex '88, said actors in the show scrub for surgery wrong, don't always wear their masks when they should _ along with other things the average late-night "M*A*S*H" fan probably wouldn't notice.
Unlike a MASH unit, with its four surgeons and 40-bed hospital capacity, the evacuation hospital is at capacity with 400 beds and a full complement of doctors from every specialty, Webb said. The hospital complex set up at Dugway for Firex '88 included 60 beds, more than was needed during the exercise.
Holley said the hospital treated 2,048 soldiers during the two-week exercise, and 1,000 more were treated by corpsmen in the field. Most of those injuries or discomforts were the result of Dugway's hostile desert conditions. Only 103 of the soldiers treated were actually admitted to the hospital. Of those, 18 were transported to hospitals in Salt Lake City or American Fork for further treatment.
Directors of the artillery maneuvers began pushing safety long before the exercise began. Firex '88 was billed as the largest-ever live-fire exercise outside of actual combat.
The possibility of fatalities and serious injuries had military organizers very concerned about safety.
Brig. Gen. James M. Miller, I Corps artillery commander and Firex director, told the Deseret News before the exercise that possibly seven men could be killed during Firex, according to mortality tables that compared the number of men and bullets with the length of the exercise.
Holley said the statistics as he understood them going into the exercise put the number for expected fatalities between seven and 20. When the firing stopped and all of the soldiers headed for home alive, extensive safety promotion efforts had paid off.
The dangers posed by the tremendous volume of highway travel and heavy equipment moving was of more concern than accidents around the 180 cannons that fired 20,000 artillery rounds during the exercise, Holley said.