View Full Version : On pins and needles

07-20-04, 10:21 AM
Issue Date: July 19, 2004

On pins and needles
Navy doctor uses acupuncture to help leathernecks in Ramadi deal with stress

By Gordon Lubold
Times staff writer

CAMP HURRICANE POINT, Iraq — Marines think they know what a “trigger release” is — until they talk to Navy Lt. Kenneth Son.
Son, the battalion surgeon for 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, is an acupuncturist and has treated hundreds of Marines for combat stress and other ailments since March, when the battalion arrived at this camp along the banks of the Euphrates River.

In the world of acupuncture, trigger release is the practice of using needles to release muscle tension. Son estimates he has used more than 2,000 needles on Marines here, including Lt. Col. Paul Kennedy, the battalion’s commanding officer, treating them for everything from aching backs and sprained ankles to combat stress.

The battalion is working in the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province. The Marines here have paid a high price for the mission, suffering more than 210 casualties, including more than 30 leathernecks killed in action. Memorial services were beginning to become routine.

“Marines who go through a lot of stress, killing or shooting people, can feel a lot of guilt,” said Son, a Korean-American. A blast from improvised explosives can cause someone to tense up so tightly that they’re sore the next day, he said. “But for some of these kids, a lot of it comes back later.”

Son, a medical doctor with a degree from the University of Southern California, received his acupuncture training at the University of California, Los Angeles, last year. He is one of a handful of military doctors who practice acupuncture in addition to traditional medicine, and the only one he knows of doing so with Marines in Iraq.

“When I first did it, people were skeptical, they didn’t know it would work,” he said. “Once I did it, the entire battalion loved it.”

One Marine said he had his doubts about acupuncture. A Japanese woman once offered him acupuncture while he was serving in her country. He shrugged it off at the time, figuring it was nonsense.

“That and a shot of tequila will fix anything,” he remembers thinking.

But his job with the battalion headquarters is high-stress, and he’s been having trouble sleeping. So he decided to give Son’s alternative treatment a try.

The Marine, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of his job, lay on his rack one morning in early July and let Son gently place five thin needles into his midsection and legs while Randy Travis played on the stereo.

“He’s a guy who has a lot of internal stress,” Son explained as he placed the “noncutting” needles into his patient.

The needles didn’t hurt exactly, the staff sergeant said.

“It’s not pleasurable, it’s just interesting — that’s the only way to describe it,” he said. “It’s not pain, but initially when it happens, it’s not a good thing.”

Son was performing what he calls “internal and external dragons,” a form of acupuncture meant to loosen muscles and sap out stress.

He then lit small round sticks called “moxa” that smell — coincidentally, Son insists — like marijuana, and touched the sticks to each of the needles.

The moxa warms each needle, accentuating the muscle-loosening effect. The Marine looked as if he was being put under anesthesia as his eyelids fluttered all but shut.

Hours later, the Marine emerged from his room after one of the most worthwhile sleeps he’d had in weeks, he said.

2nd Lt. Bronson Makeeff, the battalion adjutant, had a similar experience. He’d suffered a nagging pain in his lower back after falling out of a window during urban training last year. After “popping Motrin” for months, he went to see Son.

Now, he’s a believer.

“I’m good,” he said. “I don’t have any more problems.”

Gordon Lubold is covering I Marine Expeditionary Force operations in Iraq.



07-21-04, 08:51 AM
Marines' reactions, Navy doctors' touch heals Iraqi boy
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20047215210
Story by Sgt. Jose L. Garcia

CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq (July 18, 2004) -- Quick reactions from Iraqi Border Police and 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion helped a local teenager receive medical treatment for serious burns recently.

Sixteen-year-old Asaad Ibrahim burned himself with hot water, inflicting second-degree burns to more than 10 percent of his body. He was rushed for treatment at 1st Force Service Support Group's Alpha Surgical Company.

Ibrahim, a cook for the IBP, accidentally spilled hot water on his legs while making tea for the IBP officers. Immediately after the incident, the Iraqi officers contacted Marines from Weapons Company, 1st LAR, who were patrolling nearby.

At the officers' request, Weapons Company drove Ibrahim to Camp Al Qaim. Once there, doctors stabilized and treated his burns.

He was flown to Camp Al Asad for further treatment.

"We immediately gave him pain medication and changed the dressing," said Navy Ensign Karen M. Lovecchio, a 25-year-old nurse, from Vineland, N.J. "We washed and cleaned it with cleaning solution."

"He has partial thickness burns ... of both legs," said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Cristal D. Leslie, a 27-year-old hospital corpsman from Garden Grove, Calif.

According to Leslie, Ibrahim was traumatized and afraid he would never see his family after leaving Camp Al Qaim.

"He kept crying and wanted to go home so we had the interpreter come in and try to calm him down," Leslie explained. "We told him we would send him home after we treated his wounds."

"We gave him medication to take home and explained to him how to use it so he can take care of it on his own," Lovecchio said. "We want him capable of taking care of the burn himself before releasing him."

The doctors and staff didn't let him go home empty-handed. Corpsman calmed the frightened teenager with gifts such as tennis shoes, a soccer ball and clothes.

"We did special things for him in an attempt to make him feel better," Leslie said. "He was afraid of losing contact with his father and not seeing him again."

According to Ibrahim, he and his father have never been apart from each other and both are employed with IBP, where his father is an officer.

"When I first came here, I was afraid. I wanted my father here with me," Ibrahim said. "But now I feel better."

"It's good to help the Iraqi people when we can," said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Chad J. Vigue, a 29-year-old hospital corpsman, from Woonsocket, R.I. "It shows them our good side."

This is the third child Alpha Surgical Company has helped since being deployed here.

"I think it's great we are able to help some of the local community people," said 1st Lt. Catalina E. Kesler, the 27-year-old company executive officer, from Calexico, Calif. "Thank God we are not as busy with our own military. We are grateful ... it reminds me why we are here."

Ibrahim looks forward to playing soccer once his legs are better. This is the second time he has spilled hot water on his legs. The first time he burned his knees. He said he's thinking about a new line of work.

"I will look for another job," Ibrahim added.


Navy Ensign Karen M. Lovecchio, 25, from Vineland, N.J., a nurse with Alpha Surgical Company, 1st FSSG, treats sixteen-year-old Asaad Ibrahim's legs. Ibrahim, a cook for the Iraqi Border Police, accidentally spilled hot water on his legs inflicting second-degree burns to more than 10 percent of his body.
(USMC photo by Sgt. Jose L. Garcia) Photo by: Sgt. Jose L. Garcia