GI Eyes Damaged by Lasers
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq, March 30, 2009 -- Laser "friendly fire" incidents are on the rise in Iraq, with inflicted damage ranging from severe migraines to partial blindness, the military is reporting.
Since November 2008, the 3d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) (3d ESC), the US Army unit that supplies battlefield troops with logistics support, fuel, weapons, and other supplies, has experienced 12 green laser incidents involving 14 soldiers. Three soldiers required medical evacuation out of Iraq and one is now blind in one eye, reported Sgt. Crystal Reidy of the 3d ESC in a news release.
Coalition forces use many different types of nonlethal laser systems varying in power from safe (5 MW of energy) to extremely hazardous (105 MW).
Sgt. Chris M. Horvath, a truck commander with B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 124th Cavalry Regiment, was headed north on a supply route during a convoy escort mission when he was lased by a fellow soldier with a green laser system. Horvath, of McKinney, Texas, said he saw the laser pass through the window twice. He and other soldiers in his truck had severe migraines for 48 hours but felt lucky because they didn't have permanent eye damage, Reidy wrote.
A US Army soldier adjusts the infrared laser mounted on his weapon so he scan for enemy personnel while conducting a night air assault mission in a small village west of Salman Pak, Iraq, on Dec. 11, 2007. (US Army photo by Sgt. Timothy Kingston)
The laser burns whatever it comes in contact with, especially soft tissue like eyes, said Capt. Russell Harris, the B Troop commander. "Soldiers in my unit affected by lasers have suffered temporary blindness, headaches and blurred vision," he said.
"The intent of the laser is to assist the gunner with stand-off distance and to warn nonmilitary vehicles as they encroach upon coalition convoys," he said.
Harris said he had never heard of eye laser incidents prior to arriving in Iraq until last December, and feels there is a lack of training for soldiers on the dangers of lasers. He said laser incidents can be eliminated through knowledge and ongoing training from their units.
Acting Surgeon General (SG) Rear Admiral Steven K. Galson of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps said in a report that there has been an increase of friendly-on-friendly laser eye incidents reported in Iraq, with the incidents primarily occurring when units first arrive in war zones. He said laser safety should be briefed during the rules of engagement and escalation of force procedures.
The report said lasers are dangerous at all times but the effects can differ from day to night time. During the day, a laser may look like a photoflash and persist for a few minutes. During nighttime operations, the viewing of lasers may impair a soldier’s night vision for up to 30 minutes.
The SG report states all major laser incidents in Iraq have been investigated and none were attributed to enemy activity. All laser injuries have been accidently self-inflicted or were attributed to improper lasering of friendly forces. Commanders and leaders must ensure their personnel are thoroughly familiar with laser hazards, Galson said.
Soldiers need to remember that lasers are weapons and should never be used against coalition forces, Horvath said. “We are all US soldiers, you would never point your rifle at another soldier, don’t point your laser,” he said.
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