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Lt. Col. Linda Lebedovych helps evacuate a baby in November 2005 to an Islamabad hospital after the baby spent the night attached to a ventilator in the 212th MASH ICU. The MASH donated its entire mobile hospital to Pakistan completing its final mission.

Lt. Col. Linda Lebedovych helps evacuate a baby in November 2005 to an Islamabad hospital after the baby spent the night attached to a ventilator in the 212th MASH ICU. The MASH donated its entire mobile hospital to Pakistan completing its final mission. (U.S. Navy)

It was a fitting encore for the last and most decorated MASH in the U.S. Army.

The day after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake rocked Pakistan last fall, Col. Angel Lugo got a call from a friend who told him the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital might be tabbed to go.

Based in Miesau, the 212th MASH had just returned from an exercise in Angola, so the unit wasn’t expecting to go anywhere, especially since it was in the process of being turned into a Combat Support Hospital.

When the Oct. 8 earthquake hit, many in the 212th MASH were on leave. Lugo, the commander, was touring Heidelberg, while his operations officer, Capt. Liza O’Neal, was in Paris.

“It was a long weekend,” O’Neal said, “and we were all out and about.”

But two weeks after the Kashmir earthquake had killed 87,000 people, a task force led by the 212th MASH was in the Himalayas setting up a $4.5 million hospital, which the United States later donated to Pakistan.

“You didn’t have time to think,” Sgt. Michelle Berres, a nurse, said of the hasty departure. “You just worked until it was done.”

The MASH task force, which drew heavily from personnel at nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, established its base in Muzaffarabad, about six miles from the epicenter. The 84-bed hospital included two operating tables, four wards, a power station, pharmacy, lab, radiology section and other features.

“Leave it to the Americans to bring the Mayo Clinic to Pakistan,” O’Neal said, recalling the sentiments of one nongovernmental organization worker.

Almost immediately, the hospital became a magnet.

The medical staff began seeing patients within six hours of their arrival. The first surgery occurred the following day and by nightfall the intensive care unit was filled. Local clinics were no match for the MASH.

“We had the only ventilators” in Muzaffarabad, O’Neal said. “We had a dozen. They had zero.”

Lugo and his staff planned for a deployment of up to 90 days, though many, including the boss, thought they might make it home by Christmas. Instead, the task force, which included a detachment from the 123rd Main Support Battalion in Dexheim, kept Operation Lifeline going until February.

During its four months in Pakistan, the MASH treated more than 9,200 people, performed over 420 surgeries, visited at least 50 villages and gave tens of thousands of immunizations. It also welcomed many high-level dignitaries, from Vice President Dick Cheney to President Musharraf of Pakistan to actress Angelina Jolie in her capacity as a U.N. goodwill ambassador.

But in the end, it was the staff members’ bedside manner that won over the locals. One of them became known for giving younger patients “field trips” around camp. Other health care providers ventured into remote villages to provide basic medical care.

Lugo said he sensed that many Pakistani patients were surprised by the amount of care and compassion the Americans displayed.

“Word got out that we weren’t these ‘mean Americans,’” Lugo said.

E-mail Kevin Dougherty at: doughertyk@mail.estripes.osd.mil.

Related story: Heroes for a devastated land

More profiles from the 2006 edition of this Stars and Stripes special section:

Capt. Marlon JamesSpc. Kurt-Alexander KaahuiPetty Officer 3rd Class Robert MaldonadoCapt. Chad T. MartinMaj. Lauralee McGunagle and Maj. Kathryn Van AukenChief Warrant Officer 3 Brian MucciStaff Sgt. Timothy Nein, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester and Spc. Jason MikeStaff Sgt. Jason PepperPetty Officer 2nd Class Juan RubioMaster Sgt. Suran SarStaff Sgt. Anthony ViggianiStaff Sgt. Matt Blaskowski and Staff Sgt. Christopher Choay1st Lt. Stephen BoadaSgt. Keith CamardoSgt. 1st Class Makonen CampbellCol. James Coffman Jr.Petty Officer 2nd Class Alan DementerCapt. Steven Victor EngbergPetty Officer 3rd Class Clayton GarciaLance Cpl. Ben GonzalezSgt. Justin HormannLt. Cmdr. Richard JadickVisit Heroes 2006 for more

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