|Editor's note: This story is reprinted with permission from the July 22, 2005 edition of The Eagle and The Crescent, the official newspaper of the II Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD).|
AL TAQADDUM, Iraq - Since the 1800s, chiropractors have been around helping patients with muscular and skeletal stress. Considered a form of alternative medicine, chiropractic medicine is not always accepted in Navy medicine's arsenal or the medical community at large.
For Lt. Col. Christopher Zelez, UH-1N Huey pilot with Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 775, chiropractic medicine is more than an alternative form of medicine; it is a way of life.
In 1983, after graduating with a degree in engineering from Pennsylvania State University, Zelez entered the Marine Corps to become a helicopter pilot.
"The opportunity presented itself after graduating school to enter the Marine Corps," said the Philadelphia native. "Becoming a naval aviator seemed like a good way to start a career."
Upon entering the Marine Corps, Zelez joined HML/A-269 at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. While attached to the 'Gunrunners,' Zelez participated in three deployments with Marine Expeditionary Units, as well as Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in the early 1990s.
After the Gulf War, the Marine Corps began downsizing its force and Zelez joined the Marine Corps reserves in 1994. After settling with HML/A-773 at Naval Air Station, Atlanta, Zelez began attending Life University in Marietta, Ga., to study medicine. After seeking chiropractic care for an injury during his active duty career, Zelez decided to pursue a second career as a chiropractor.
"Coming off active duty I had been treated a couple of times by a chiropractor for the past 15 years," Zelez said. "I wanted to be able to help people with similar problems as I had."
In 1999, after graduating Magna Cum Laude from Life University, Zelez moved his family from Georgia back home to Pennsylvania. Years later, while working in a clinic six days a week, seeing upwards of 200 patients a week, Zelez heard of an opportunity to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2004.
"Having the opportunity to serve and do some exciting things was a big reason for requesting activation," Zelez said. "The change of pace was great for me."
While deployed to Al Asad, Iraq, serving as the Marine Aircraft Group 16 senior watch officer, Zelez volunteered to extend his mobilization orders for another year.
"I wanted to deploy with my original unit, HML/A-775," Zelez said. "I wasn't able to fly during my first tour here and I wanted to have that experience."
Although flying is his main mission here, his second career has come in handy when a couple of his associates were experiencing muscle strain and joint fixation in their backs and shoulders.
In 2004, Zelez began giving chiropractic care to his fellow Marines. The Marines were so enthusiastic about the opportunity; they built him a table to perform adjustments on them.
"They built a table at the MAG headquarters in Al Asad and here at the 775 workspaces," Zelez said. "This year I ordered a deployable adjustment table that folds up into the size of a big suitcase that I use everyday."
Now Zelez spends his off time helping his fellow Marines and Department of Defense contractors with minor muscle spasms, joint fixation or muscle strain. Seeing between three to 10 patients a day Zelez is able to keep his skills sharp for when he returns to the private sector.
"I get a lot of Marines from the squadrons here, as well as the base fire department," Zelez said. "Some people show up on their own, while one unit's flight surgeon sends patients to me for treatment."
Between flying close air support missions in his UH-1N Huey and aiding his fellow service members with his chiropractic expertise, Zelez helps keep his fellow Marines in the fight. He keeps them more comfortable with his chiropractic skill and keeps insurgents in check with his many missions to support troops on the ground.