Morale: The Good Laser


January13, 2007: For all practical purposes, the U.S. Department of Defense has made laser eye surgery a free fringe benefit. For example, the U.S. Air Force has a major laser eye surgery facility at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where any member of the military can walk in and get the procedure. Over the last three years, the military has found that about 85 percent of their eyeglass wearing personnel can benefit from laser eye surgery, and 96 percent of those who get the surgery end up with 20/20, or better, vision.

This procedure is considered a good investment, as troops who no longer have to wear glasses are much better off. Every soldier knows what a hassle eyeglasses can be in combat, because they get a taste of it in basic training. The running and jumping, the dust, explosions and general chaos often send eyeglasses flying, or leave them damaged. Moreover, combat soldiers are now more likely to use eyepiece sights (sniper scopes, night scopes, or the sight for the main gun on an M-1 tank), and these are easier to use without glasses.

The procedure itself only takes about ten minutes, and activity must be restricted for 30 days after so the eye can heal. The laser procedure has gone through several generations and is quite fast, effective and safe. The problem rate for the troops is practically zero.

Laser eye surgery (often called "lasik") has also become a support item for combat pilots. The US Navy loses about eight pilots a year to failing eyesight. Laser eye surgery has proved capable of restoring that eyesight to standards required for carrier pilots. The procedure also expands the pool of potential pilots, as many promising prospects are turned away because their eyesight is not good enough. Many notable aces in the early years of air combat had eyesight problem that would have kept them out of flight school today. Modern warplanes are faster and less forgiving than in days past, so the near perfect eyesight has become essential.

But the military is finding out that all those eyeglass wearing warrior types used to end up somewhere, and where they aren't going these days, is missing them. Just ask the submarine admirals who can't keep their crews up to strength any more. That's because, without anyone really noticing it, for decades, hotshots who couldn't get into flight school because of eye problems, often went into the submarine service. Many now get their eyes fixed, and fly off and way from submarine duty. The solution has been to offer large cash bonuses to those willing to serve in subs, or other critical jobs that used to be filled by people with eyeglasses.


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