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Camp Humphreys’ combat-support hospital is like a modern-day M.A.S.H

Camp Humphreys, South Korea (Dale Kowalewski)

Medical personnel at the home of the Eighth Army went back to their Korean War roots by setting up and running a field hospital during a recent exercise.

The 121st Combat Support Hospital is a collection of tents only a stone’s throw from where the massive new Brian Allgood Community Hospital is under construction at Camp Humphreys. The tent hospital, which stands year-round but comes to life twice a year, is the larger facility’s just-as-functional wartime brother.

“It’s not designed for training; it’s designed for real life,” Capt. Trevor Fitzgerald said of the field hospital. The 27-year-old from Guthrie, Okla., leads the 163 soldiers working there, including doctors from Hawaii and Washington state.

The 44-bed field CSH — pronounced “cash” — is a modern, well-equipped version of the old Mobile Army Surgical Hospital seen on the hit TV show “M.A.S.H.” It has two operating rooms, an emergency room, an MRI machine, a pharmacy and laboratories. Troops can set it up in 72 hours.

“If we were to transition to hostilities … the design is for the Eighth Army commander to be able to tell us to go and set up anywhere he likes us to,” Fitzgerald said.

The field hospital has a modular design that allows it to grow “like Lego” into a 240-bed facility with additional services such as laundry, food and chaplain support. The goal is to get wounded troops back into the fight or evacuate them from the peninsula, Fitzgerald said.

Last month, medical personnel tested the hospital’s ability to cope with a mass-casualty event that emergency room doctor Capt. Stephanie Couch, 31, of Nashville, Tenn., called “controlled chaos.”

A dozen soldiers playing casualties with blown out innards and burnt faces arrived on ambulances and were immediately sent to a triage site where staff assessed the urgency and severity of their mock injuries.

In the emergency room, about 40 doctors and medics performed carefully choreographed routines as they attended to patients.

“There’s a bit of chaos going on at all times, but the primary focus for most people is, as long as they know their assigned role to their assigned bed, then they can ignore most of the chaos and they’re focusing on their personally-assigned tasks,” Couch said.

Maj. Alicia Williams, 36, of Woodbridge, Va., performed an actual lipoma removal on a volunteer during the exercise. She said she tried to block out all distractions while working.

“Your  focus is to make sure that person in front of you is OK and makes it,” she said. “Once you get them to their next destination, you just focus on the next patient and the next patient.”

There was some real stress during the two-hour drill just as there is with every exercise in Korea, said Williams, who has performed surgery on troops in Afghanistan.

“Even though it’s practice … when you’re closer to potential tension it feels a little bit more serious,” she said.


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