Murphy's Law: Friendly Fire With Lasers


June 16, 2009: Eye safe green lasers have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2005, to force drivers to stop at check points. While no civilians have had their eyes injured by these devices, at least one soldier has lost sight in one eye, and others have suffered temporary blindness. These incidents occurred when troops were horsing around with the devices, or simply being careless. So the military is increasing the training for those who use these lasers, to emphasize that they are only eye-safe if used carefully. There have been 64 incidents in Iraq, where troops got an eyeful of green laser, and in 45 cases there was some temporary blinding, with two incidents resulting in some permanent loss of vision in an eye.

These commercial pointers, used at briefings and such, have a range of about two kilometers, and cost about $70. Eventually, the U.S. Army bought them in bulk and distributed them to troops manning checkpoints or base entrances. Some, mounted in a weather proof, articulated enclosure, enabled troops to operate the laser remotely, to flash the laser light at oncoming drivers, to get them to stop at checkpoints, or other locations.

Anyone getting hit in the eye with these lasers will be disoriented for up to 15 minutes. When the marines began using the device, they bought a model that lowered the power when the target is too close. A laser becomes less powerful the farther away you are from it. This is one reason why troops injuries were more severe, as the victims are a lot closer to the laser. Civilians usually get hit when they are a hundred meters or more away. The navy is issuing the device to ships, to keep suspicious boats away.

Unlike urban Iraq, where information gets around quickly, in Afghanistan there was a publicity campaign to let people, especially those in rural areas where most troops operate, know about the green lasers. Even if people don't get the message, they will know enough to hit the brakes if they get an eye full of green laser.



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