In June, Army Reserve Officer and University of Houston College of Optometry (UHCO) alumnus Dr. Ben Uhl learned he was shipping off to care for the eyes of American and NATO soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines in Afghanistan. As he made his way through the war-torn country, Uhl soon realized that he was not the only Houston Cougar serving in this capacity.
Upon arriving in Afghanistan, Uhl synced up with three additional UHCO graduates providing eye care to the troops. Fellow graduates Drs. David Miller, Danny Elizando and Kerry Phelan also are stationed in Afghanistan, solely responsible for the eye care of the more than 90,000 troops stationed in the country. The services they are providing have proven especially valuable considering that recent data has shown eye injuries account for roughly 10 percent of all battlefield wounds.
"We're a critical wartime specialty shortage, so they need us," said Uhl. "There are certain military occupational specialties that the Army doesn't have enough of, and optometry is one of them."
Uhl is currently stationed at Kandahar Airfield, a NATO facility, and tasked with setting up a new clinic. NATO and American troops, locals and detainees all will benefit from the treatment provided by clinic staff. Uhl will be deployed for 400 days, but the clinic will likely remain even after the American military operations are complete.
Not long into his deployment, Uhl began to cross paths with his Cougar connections. In July, he met up with Miller in Kabul and learned that UHCO class of 2007 graduate Phelan also was stationed in Afghanistan. Elizando rounds out the group of alumni, having graduated from UHCO in 1979. Elizando subsequently went to medical school and later became an ophthalmologist.
"Uhl, Miller, Elizando and Phelan are great role models for our students and the UH community," said Earl Smith, UHCO dean. "All of us here at UHCO wish them success with their missions and a safe return home."
Prior to his current deployment, Uhl served four years in the Army, including Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. He returned to the United States after his tours and entered optometry school at UHCO. By 2008, he graduated with honors and continued to serve as a reservist. Shortly thereafter, Uhl's passion for eye care and serving his country would lead him to Afghanistan, and beyond the mountains of Panama, where he treated more than 1,000 Panamanians in only 10 days. When not deployed, Uhl practices at Plymouth County Eye Care in Le Mars, Iowa, and Sergeant Bluff Eye Care in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa.
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About the UH College of Optometry
Since 1952, the University of Houston College of Optometry (UHCO) has educated and trained optometrists to provide the highest quality vision care. One of only 20 optometry schools in the country, UHCO offers a variety of degree programs, including Doctor of Optometry (O.D.), a combined Doctor of Optometry/Doctor of Philosophy (O.D./Ph.D.), Master of Science (M.S.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). UHCO serves an average of 36,000 patients a year through The University Eye Institute and its satellite clinics.
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