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Despite modern advances, amputation is still a commonly performed operation in war. It is often difficult to decide whether to amputate after high-energy trauma to the lower extremity. To help guide this assessment, scoring systems have been developed with amputation threshold values. These studies were all conducted on a civilian population, encompassing a wide range of ages and methods of injury. The evidence for their sensitivity and specificity is inconclusive. The aim of this study was to assess the validity of the mangled extremity severity score (MESS), the only verified score, in a population of UK military patients with ballistic mangled extremity injuries.We identified from the prospectively kept Joint Theater Trauma Registry all patients who had sustained ballistic lower limb open fractures during the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (May 2003–April 2008). Demographics were assessed using both the trauma audit and the hospital notes. Patients were retrospectively evaluated with the MESS system for lower extremity trauma. Those that required an amputation were compared with those that had successful limb salvage.Seventy-seven military patients with 86 limbs who had ballistic mangled extremity injuries were identified, 22 of whom required amputation. The MESS did not help to decide whether or not an amputation was appropriate and in particular, the age was not relevant. A skeletal score of 4, while being associated with a higher amputation rate, was not predictive of its need. Most amputations were performed when an ischemic limb was present, and the general condition of the casualty precluded the lengthy reconstruction required for salvage.The management of ballistic extremity injuries in military patients should be considered separate to that of civilians with high-energy trauma extremity injuries. The authors have identified important factors in the management, in particular the need for early amputation, of the military mangled extremity.