The Eyes Have It at Afghanistan Combat Hospital
By Staff Sgt. Johnny A. Thompson, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM, Afghanistan, Jan. 14, 2004 If U.S. and coalition forces here are going to be successful in their quest to kill, capture and deny sanctuary to al Qaeda and Taliban militants, they must first be able to see their nemesis.
Capt. Mark Reynolds, 452nd Combat Support Hospital ophthalmology clinic at Bagram, Afghanistan, conducts an eye exam for Sgt. Maj. Wayne Hall, Joint Logistics Command. Photo by Staff Sgt. Johnny A. Thompson, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"Our role is to provide eye care for the U.S. troops in the theater and to provide emergency eye care for the local Afghan citizens," said Capt. Mark Reynolds, ophthalmology officer in charge.
Staffed with an ophthalmologist and an optical laboratory specialist, the ophthalmology clinic treats various optical problems for service members, ranging from providing troops with prescription glasses to treating eye injuries and giving eye exams.
Reynolds noted that while service members can receive most services that are available at their home stations, the clinic here doesn't deal with contact lenses, which are prohibited in theater, or laser eye surgery and some diagnostic eye exams such as angiograms, because of limited diagnostic equipment.
"The most common problems we treat are service members suffering from foreign objects in the eye, such as sand or other small debris," said Sgt. Robert Davis, ophthalmology unit noncommissioned officer in charge. "However, we have treated service members with small corneal abrasions, and have treated a few major eye injuries."
Though the unit is required to treat U.S. service members and is allowed to provide only emergency service for local citizens, the Reynolds said the unit understands that every attempt to help the local citizens is an attempt to foster a better relationship between the coalition forces and Afghanistan.
He said that while the unit has treated Afghans who suffered eye injuries from land mines and accidents, the services don't stop there. "We've provided surgery for citizens who suffer from strabismus (crossed eyes) and have removed cataracts," Reynolds said. "We are trying to do the most we can with the time and resources we have available."
Although the ophthalmology soldiers are not on the front line fighting, they understand their contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom is no less valuable than that of soldiers who put bullets downrange.
"What good is an infantryman if he can't see what he needs to shoot, or a pilot if he can't see where he needs to fly?" Davis asked. "We preserve the sight so armed forces can fight, and that makes us as valuable as any asset the military has."
(Army Staff Sgt. Johnny A. Thompson is assigned to the 4th Public Affairs Detachment.)