Staff Sgt. Jon French, 1431st Engineer Company, 107th Engineer Battalion, Michigan Army National Guard, has come up with a weapons sighting system that allows combat wounded veterans who have lost their eyesight the ability to shoot firearms, hunt, enjoy the outdoors and hopefully help adjust to their former selves. The French Visually Impaired Sighting System (VISS) is a proven effective sighting system that allows visually impaired veterans and civilians to participate and enjoy hunting and shooting sports. All profits from the sales of a VISS are used to help provide VISS systems to wounded U.S. military veteran’s and help support the organizations that foster veteran’s and veteran’s family growth.
French was wounded in Afghanistan, July 19, 2009, when he was on a route clearance patrol looking for IED’s (improvised explosive device) and found himself involved in a firefight. He was struck in his front chest plate with a rocket propelled grenade. He is doing great now but had so much support from people including those from the outdoor and hunting industries that he was inspired to help others in any way he could. He loves to hunt and fish, it’s what he knew the most about and where he felt he could help.
Inspired to help his brother, Dan French, who is 100 percent blind, get back to shooting, Jon was determined to design and create something to help Dan and injured Veterans get back to hunting and doing something they loved.
Traumatic eye injuries account for about 16 percent of all battlefield injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, and 80 percent of Soldiers with eye injuries were unable to return to duty, compared to 20 percent with other types of injuries.
Some veterans experience loss of motivation and loss of interest in life after a traumatic event, such as loss of eyesight, and if they are not able to continue doing the things they could do before such as hunting, fishing or just enjoying being outdoors, they may become depressed. It can be hard to adjust and find pleasure in life’s activities. VISS is one way French is trying to give back to those who have experienced this traumatic loss of eyesight, and other injuries, helping them enjoy life again by getting back out and doing what they love.
“Being able to get back out to doing what I love is extremely therapeutic; I know when I was injured I lost the ability to bend my right arm, I have a full artificial right elbow, when they first put it in I wasn’t able to enjoy shooting sports, and hunting specifically. And outdoor sports were a huge staple in my life. Once you lose that you aren’t sure what direction to go. Being able to get back into the outdoors allowed me to get more focus and direction and realize I can be back to who I was,” said French.
With the VISS, the “shooter” operates the rifle (loads/carries/operates the safety and trigger) and the bipod/tripod on his own. The “spotter” kneels right behind the shooter and helps the shooter put the reticle (cross hairs) on the target (positioning themselves much like a major league umpire watching over a catcher’s shoulder). While the shooter has his sight lined up on the target, the spotter places a hand flat on the shooters back (this signals shooter is ready to take the safety off, to breathe and send the round down range). If the target moves or rifle moves off its target, the spotter lifts his hand off the shooter’s back and no shot is taken. It’s pretty simple and accurate. It’s a combination of the four fundamentals of marksmanship, teamwork, communication and practice. The French VISS sight just elevates the rifle scope up and to the rear of its normal position (essentially by the shooters ear) allowing the spotter to help call directions to move the reticle on target.
French builds the sighting systems in his basement for now with donations from local companies and from extra odd jobs he does in his free time. Massie Manufacturing in Baraga, Mich., has also donated aluminum stock and machine time French needs to construct the main offset bar. Peninsula Powder Coating, Baraga, Mich., has also donated paint and powder coating. There is no profit made from any of the sights. French has manufactured and delivered six systems so far and there are 10 more currently in production.
“When I was injured and released from Walter Reed Medical Center,” said French, “I was asking myself “What now? Where do I head now with the rest of my life?” Through the generosity of so many people and organizations, I was able to get back to the outdoor sportsman lifestyle I lived prior to my combat injury. Being “re-grounded” in this part of my life brought me back to all the other ideals I hold and strive for. I want to give that direction and help to other military brothers and sisters that need it. Life isn’t over once you’re injured; it’s just a regrouping/re-setting moment and then you get back into life.”
For more information Jon has a Facebook page called French Visually Impaired Sighting System.