AT-TAQADDUM, Iraq – More than 30 service members received a three-hour crash course on laser weapon systems May 16, designed to give them enough information to instruct others in their units on basic laser safety.
The course focused on the proper use of laser dazzlers, which provide troops in Iraq and Afghanistan a non-lethal method to disrupt the vision of potential enemy threats, especially while conducting convoy operations.
Despite being classified as non-lethal, dazzlers can pose serious health risks if not used properly.
"The major danger when we talk lasers is the harm it can do to the eye," said Robert B. Hinton, a new equipment training specialist with the Optics and Non-Lethal Division, Marine Corps Systems Command, based out of Quantico, Va.
Not all of the 55 laser weapon systems used by the Marine Corps' ground forces are dangerous, but some can "cook your eye like a hard-boiled egg in one tenth of a second," Hinton said.
He added that from close ranges, the most powerful lasers "can actually burn through both layers of skin, and you can show up as a radiation hazard after it happens."
Hinton said it's important that Marines know exactly which system they use, what the minimum safe distance is for their system, and remain constantly aware of their surroundings. High-wavelength lasers can have negative "biological effects" even when the beam is reflected or diffused.
He and his colleague, Jim M. Santoro, are both former Marines. Santoro, a 38-year-old from Stafford, Va., left the Corps in 2007 after two combat deployments and is still in the Individual Ready Reserve.
Marine Corps Systems Command deployed the two instructors for a one-month tour of the Anbar province, where they plan to visit Fallujah, Al Asad and Ramadi before leaving Iraq in mid-June.
"Once we step on deck, we have classes already scheduled on the base," said Hinton, a 31-year-old from Newport, W.Va. "Then we'll go to individual units and offer our services, instructing on whatever piece of equipment they need taught."
One Marine who attended the training said getting hands-on training from experts was a valuable learning experience.
"Most people look at these (weapon systems) like they're big (laser) pointers, but they've got a lot of power," said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey A. Callahan, company safety officer and armory staff-noncommissioned officer in charge for Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Marine Logistics Group.
"The class had some good info ... especially for people who are going to be maintaining (the lasers)," said Callahan, 37, from Bakersville, N.C. "I definitely got a lot of good knowledge out of it."