Good eyesight can mean the difference between life and death for U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. A program called Sight for Soldiers is helping military men and women perform tasks without the burden of contact lenses or glasses. The soldiers receive laser eye surgery to correct their vision at a 25% discount under the program. Twenty-two-year-old Sergeant Adam Winge of Fort Dodge says dealing with eye ware issues while training is difficult.
“At drill weekends, it’s not your normal eight hour work day,” Winge said. “We’re there for 10 to 12 hours sometimes and it’s just miserable. You go to sleep for six or seven hours, you wake up and put your contacts in for another 12 hours…my eyes just get dried out and they hurt.” Winge recently took advantage of the Sight for Soldiers discount and had the surgery. So did Captain Jody Marti of Knoxville. She says her Army issued glasses didn’t fit well and often got in the way. Marti’s vision is now nearly perfect and she recently put it to the test.
“I went out this past weekend and target practiced with my husband and it was awesome,” Marti said. “I didn’t have to worry about moving my head…I could just see great. So, I think it’s going to be such a benefit to me when I’m deployed – just because of the environment.” Doctor Ben Mason of Waterloo is one of the Iowa ophthalmologists providing the surgery. He says a desert battlefield puts a tremendous strain on the eyes.
“That environment really kind of sets them up for infection,” Mason said. “They don’t have the right material to clean their contacts, they’re in a dusty environment and they can get foreign bodies in their eyes and things like that. Then, if something does happen and they need medical attention, well, it’s harder for them to get it.”
Captain Marti and Sergeant Winge are among nearly 3,000 Iowa Army National Guard soldiers preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in August. The soldiers will train at Camp Shelby, Mississippi and Fort Irwin, California before they leave for Afghanistan. The entire deployment, including training, is expected to last one year.