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Air Force seeks better eye protection in war

Airmen stand at the ready to move patients from arriving helicopters June 17 at the mobile aeromedical staging facility. Patients and equipment are eventually moved to Air Force C-130 and C-17 aircraft which transport them to the contingency aeromedical staging facility at Augusta Regional Airport at Busch Field, Ga., one of the locations of Golden Medic 2006, an annual training medical exercise.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen Schester)

Air Force Reserve medical personnel wear eye protection during an Army-Air Force medical training exercise in Augusta, Ga., in June 2006. The Department of Defense is taking a closer look at how it can protect a warfighter's eyes more effectively. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen Schester)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Today's combat environment poses a myriad of threats to Air Force warfighters' eyes, ranging from environmental to man-made causes.

Among the environmental dangers are ultraviolet rays, dust, wind, projectiles and blinding sandstorms. Improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades, lasers and chemical warfare comprise the more common man-made hazards.

"In recent conflicts, combat injuries to the head and neck outnumber torso injuries by nearly four to one, with the eye and socket as the most frequently injured regions of the warfigher's head and neck," states the U.S. Army publication, "Warfighter Face and Eye Injury Protection."

Ophthalmology Trauma Magazine reports, "Eye injuries occur in 10 percent of nonfatal casualties in military conflicts."

These facts have spurred the Department of Defense to take a closer look at how it can protect a warfighter's eyes more effectively.

In the Air Force, the requirement to deploy with eye protection is not new, but the eye protection historically used has often been inadequate. Also, the Air Staff recognized the lack of an Air Force-wide policy to ensure Airmen deploy with eye protection and that the eye protection can meet our wartime threats.

With this goal in mind, the Air Staff disseminated the Air Force Ballistic Protective Eyewear Program. Included in this guidance is the Air Force Protective Eyewear List. The AFPEL provides the names of allowable eye-protection devices.

The Air Force has lessons learned from its sister services, which have been ahead of it in standardizing and implementing eye-protection programs.

In the past, DOD has relied on sun, wind and dust goggles. These do not perform well enough to protect eyes in today's war environments.

Maj. Ken Hoffman, a U.S. Southern Command spokesperson, told Special Operations Technology that "There is no one system that effectively meets or covers the entire spectrum of threats that the human eye can be exposed to."

DOD's goal is to use a combination of spectacles and goggles to provide the eye protection necessary. One company the Army uses, and is now found on the Air Force Protective Eyewear List, has been commended for being one of several companies working to give eye-protective eyewear the attention it deserves as a defense system rather than a simple accessory.

Another point to consider is UV protection. All the eye-protective devices on the AFPEL include a sunshield.

Lastly, in the sandy, dusty environment of the desert, Airmen are urged to limit contact lens wear because of increased discomfort and the increased potential for eye infections. (AFRC News Service)

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