by Brian Shreve
78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
3/7/2014 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- When
it comes to pain relief, sharp objects aren't often the remedy most
consider first. But with the realized benefits of battlefield
acupuncture, that perception is quickly changing, one pin prick at a
Physicians and other health care providers from the 78th Medical Group
attended a training session March 1 at the Robins Medical Center as part
of an effort to get personnel acquainted with, and ultimately
credentialed on, the practice -- which could soon become an alleviating
addition to the base clinic.
Dr. Tom Piazza, one of three physician acupuncturists at Andrews Air
Force Base, Md., led the day-long course in which students received
hands-on instruction by performing the procedure on each other, as well
as other volunteers seeking reprieve from persistent pain.
The story of how acupuncture found a home in the Air Force began at
Andrews where Piazza's colleague, Dr. Richard Niemtzow, created
battlefield acupuncture while on active duty in 2001, and he has since
carried the lesson of its benefits to doctors around the world.
Master Sgt. Michael Dougherty, 78th Medical Group independent duty
medical technician, had been in contact with Niemtzow for the past three
years on a mission to bring battlefield acupuncture to Robins.
Though still in the planning stages, Dougherty said interest is already
high among medical staff and others. Last week's class represented
another milestone in that effort.
"We're still working out the details," he said. "I see somewhere inside
four weeks that we really start getting some traction on this. I think
once this gets out, the demand is going to outstrip the supply of
The ultimate vision is that the clinic will soon have the ability to devote half a day each week for battlefield acupuncture.
Battlefield acupuncture, widely considered pain-free, is an oracular
therapy specific to the surface of the ear and consists of five small
needles that remain in place for two to four days before they are
removed or fall out on their own. Though performed in minutes, results
of the procedure are often felt within seconds.
Piazza pointed out how important these distinct locations in the ear are
in relation to pain affecting various regions of the body.
"We're not training people to be acupuncturists; we're training them for
this one particular technique," said Piazza. "And, we've found that
about 80 to 86 percent of patients respond, and some of those are truly
Dougherty's advocacy for the non-traditional therapy rests largely on
his view that any alternative to medication is worth the Air Force's
time. Formerly assigned to special operations, Dougherty was embedded in
work where potentially mind-numbing narcotics and critical duties
"Some can no longer control or fly because of those medications," he
said. "So we looked for ways we could treat their pain without taking
them off status, and acupuncture was one. If it works and this lets an
Airman take even one fewer pill a day, that's a victory for us."
Though utilized for thousands of years, any brand of acupuncture --
still viewed by some as too unconventional or medically unsubstantiated
-- has more than its share of doubters, some of whom changed their minds
during last Saturday's session.
Staff Sgt. Tabitha Loomis, 78th Medical Group medical technician, had
been suffering chronic pain due to a dislocated collarbone.
"This was my first time, and I was completely skeptical," said Loomis,
who volunteered for battlefield acupuncture at the event. "And, I
haven't been this pain-free without medication in years. I'm a