FORT BLISS, Texas - The Soldier lies in the prone position, his finger on the trigger of his weapon as he mentally and physically prepares to send one of three crucial rounds at the paper target 25 meters away during a zeroing exercise. He squints through his rear sight, lines up his sight picture, steadies his breath and squeezes the trigger.
Later, as the Soldier goes over his bullet grouping with a range safety officer, he notices his shot pattern is much tighter than it has been in the past. He zeroes his weapon with far less rounds than his last qualification. Perhaps it is due to preliminary marksmanship instruction at his unit at.
Perhaps it is because he no longer wears cumbersome inserts with his ballistic glasses that curve his vision in the corners. With photorefractive keratectomy surgery almost any Soldier can correct his or her vision at the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Center here, so the Soldier sees and performs better.
In an effort to improve Soldier efficiency on and off the battlefield, the Army began offering refractive eye surgery in 2002. Since then, more than 10,000 Soldiers have had their vision corrected at one of the now 14 centers around the world.
As one of the busiest eye surgery centers in the Army, second only to Darnall Army Medical Center on Fort Hood, the center at William Beaumont Army Medical Center saw more than 600 surgical patients this year. Maj. Tam Dang, officer in charge of the center here, said that his mission is to improve the Soldier and make them even more valuable to the Army.
"Imagine being able to deploy without glasses, or inserts in your gas mask," said Dang, of Houston, Texas. "What we're doing here is improving upon the already able Soldier by making their vision more reliable, and therefore, making that Soldier more combat effective."
There are, however, rumors surrounding eye surgery for Soldiers. Rumors such as a Soldier will have to change their military operational specialty as a result of the operation. Another may be a Soldier is no longer combat effective, or there is too much risk involved. Frances Sanchez, WRESP clinical supervisor, said these are myths and should not be taken seriously.
"The fact is we have a 99 percent surgery success rate," said Sanchez, a native of Silver City, N.M. "Currently the only MOS that does not take Soldiers who have had eye surgery are flight MOS's, pilots to be exact. Everything from Special Forces to High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) jumpers can have the surgery without damaging their career path."
Other stigmas Soldiers may have are fear of the surgery itself, and no surgery comes without some discomfort. However, according to Spc. Daniel Bocanegra, a health care specialist assigned to Company B, WBAMC, who has had PRK himself, the fear is unnecessary.
"The best thing about the surgery is that I can now see better than 20/20," said Bocanegra, a native of Corpus Christi, Texas. "Yes, there was some pain, but the reward of perfect vision far outweighed any fear I had before the surgery."
As the Soldier, goes on to score 38/40 on his weapon for the first time in his career, he smiles to himself. Without the surgery, he never would have tried to shoot at the 300 meter target. This time, though, he hit two of them, and that was more than worth it to him.
For more information about the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Center visit their website at: