Stay as long as you want, Pakistan's leader tells MASH unit
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan president Gen. Pervez Musharraf invited the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, which arrived in this earthquake-devastated city nearly two weeks ago, to stay indefinitely.
“We would like them to stay as long as they want to stay,” Musharraf said during a visit to the field hospital Friday. “There is so much work to be done.”
Musharraf toured the hospital for 25 minutes, stopping numerous times to confer with MASH doctors on their patients’ ailments and courses of treatment. He was accompanied by a crush of soldiers, security guards, photographers, attachés and his wife.
He put his hand on patients’ heads — including an old man named Ali, who’s been at the MASH for more than a week and is dying of respiratory failure — and gave one little boy with tetanus an envelope filled with what was believed to be money.
Musharraf praised the hospital, the U.S. military’s main medical contribution to relief efforts after an earthquake last month left some 80,000 dead and many more injured in South Asia.
“I think the facility is — is there a better word than excellent?” Musharraf said. “Under the circumstances and conditions and the dedication of the staff … it’s giving so much comfort.”
The MASH’s work, Musharraf said, also was going a long way toward improving Pakistanis’ opinions of Americans by creating “the right kind of impression.”
Musharraf was greeted by Lt. Col. Ann Sammartino, the unit’s head nurse, after the president arrived by helicopter and briefly toured a nearby Turkish hospital.
Soldiers who had gathered to see him were disappointed, they said, when they were ordered back to their work stations and so missed the excitement.
MASH soldiers, including many who have been attached from the 67th Combat Support Hospital, say they don’t know how long their deployment will last, and most said they hope it’s no longer than six months, which is the limit under their current orders. MASH commander, Col. Angel Lugo, has said the MASH will stay until Central Command tells him it’s time to go.
But many soldiers with the MASH say they want their Pakistan deployment to be over “as soon as possible.”
Although they are glad to provide medical care to the Pakistanis, they say they are already tired, having ended a deployment in Angola just three weeks before leaving for Pakistan.
Furthermore, some of the injuries they are seeing are a month old and beyond their help, such as broken bones that have already mended. They wonder, as one emergency worker who asked not to be identified said, “What are we doing here?”
Musharraf, like the U.N. and other international aid officials, has been critical of the amount of aid Pakistan has received, saying it was less than what poured in for Indonesian tsunami victims and those affected by Hurricane Katrina. However he said Friday that he was satisfied with the relief assistance.
“On the bigger issue of reconstruction and rehabilitation,” he said, “we expect the same the tsunami or Katrina got.”
Musharraf talked with at least four Pakistani-born MASH doctors and translators. They included two soldiers — a specialist and a sergeant first class working as translators — an Air Force internist, and a civilian doctor from Ohio who joined the MASH staff this week.
Before he left, Musharraf stopped by one of the newly erected mess tents, shook hands with the soldiers there and gave out big, red tins of Pakistani sweets. “Be careful,” he told the soldiers. “I call these weapons of mass destruction.”