WASHINGTON — On Monday, Aug. 21, the United States will experience a solar eclipse, where the moon passes between the sun and the Earth. For Soldiers on some Army installations, the entire sun will appear to vanish for a few minutes, and during that time they will experience total darkness. For other Soldiers, the moon will only partially obscure the sun.
The “path of totality,” is a line drawn across the country, from one coast to the other, that illustrates where in the continental United States Americans will be able to experience a total eclipse. That path starts in Oregon and extends through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Several Regular Army installations, including Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri are in or very near that path of totality. Many other Army National Guard readiness centers and armories, as well as Army arsenals and depots, will also be able to experience the “total eclipse.”
Even if not in the “path of totality,” everybody in the United States will be able to experience the eclipse to some degree.
MILITARY ECLIPSE PARTICIPATION
Oregon will be the first state in the path of totality. For those in the town of Madras, for instance, they will experience a total eclipse beginning at 10:19:36 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time and ending at 10:21:38 a.m., according to NASA. The eclipse event will last for longer, however.
In anticipation of any problems that might occur during that time, the Oregon National Guard is scheduled to activate six Army National Guard aircraft and 150 Oregon Air and Army National Guard members to assist first responders. That support begins this weekend and runs through Aug. 21, said Stephen Bomar, a spokesman for the Oregon ARNG.
Duties for those Guardsmen could include traffic control, medevac and firefighting, he said.
Besides Oregon, other states in or near the path of totality have been in contact with each other to discuss the Emergency Management Assistance Compact process. That compact is an agreement between state governors to utilize one another’s National Guard assets, should the need arise, he said.
The Oregon National Guard already is very busy with firefighting efforts across the state and those fires are expected to last during and after the eclipse, Bomar said. Despite the firefighting efforts, Bomar said members of the Guard will be made available for any duties associated with the eclipse.
Bomar said he expects that other states in the path of totality will also be prepared to assist first responders as well.
Fort Campbell, Kentucky, one of the installations in the path of totality, has scheduled a “day of non-specific activity for Soldiers” on the day of the eclipse, said base spokesman Bob Jenkins. For the most part, this means most of the 28,000 Soldiers there will be able to spend time with their families that day to enjoy watching the eclipse.
Jenkins said he also expects that there will be a lot of visitors to the nearby town of Hopkinsville, which he said “is supposed to be the best eclipse site.” He said his office has fielded a lot of telephone calls from military retirees looking for information about places to stay on base in order to watch the eclipse.
South Carolina will be the last state in the path of totality. For those in the city of Columbia, next to Fort Jackson, the total darkness from the eclipse will last from 2:41:51 p.m. EDT to 2:44:21 p.m., according to NASA.
Some 1,000 Guard Soldiers and Airmen are prepared to assist first responders in South Carolina, if needed, according to Maj. Gen. Robert E Livingston, Jr., the adjutant general of South Carolina.
Members of the South Carolina National Guard test their solar eclipse safety glasses Aug. 9, 2017, in Columbia, South Carolina. The glasses were distributed by the South Carolina National Guard Safety Office in preparation for the solar eclipse that will occur Aug. 21, 2017. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Chelsea Baker)
“We are excited about this event, and because we have been planning for it, our safety officials are ready to support the influx of visitors to our state,” said Livingston. “Team South Carolina is prepared and ready as we always are.”
He added: “We urge everyone to get to your destination well before the eclipse so you can enjoy it with your family and friends and be safely off the roadways.”
At Fort Jackson, one of the four bases in the Army where basic military training occurs, not much will change on the day of the eclipse, said Chris Fletcher, a public affairs specialist there.
“It’s pretty much business as usual,” he said. “Our Soldiers in training will be training as usual during the day, but some will be able to participate in the eclipse. Still, our focus will be on ensuring Soldiers in training get through their training for the day in a safe manner.”
Fletcher said there will be one special event at Fort Jackson on the day of the eclipse. During the time of the total eclipse, which only lasts a few minutes, children from the Child Development Center there, as well as students from the military schools there, will gather at the parade field on base to watch the eclipse. Also at that time, he said, the U.S. Army’s parachute team, “the Golden Knights” will stage a parachute jump, he said.
SAFE ECLIPSE VIEWING
During an eclipse, the lower light levels and novelty of the situation may tempt some to look up into the sky without suitable eye protection.
“This is extremely hazardous for the eyes,” said Anastacio Dalde III, who works with the U.S. Army Public Health Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
In the past few months, sales of “eclipse viewing glasses” have increased online and in stores. Dalde said that while many manufacturers claim their eyewear has been made specifically for safe viewing of an eclipse, “our informal laboratory tests suggest that not all eyewear offers sufficient protection.”
The best eclipse eyewear, he said, bears International Organization for Standardization 12312-2 certification. Many of the solar eclipse eyewear products manufactured in the United States meet this ISO standard, he said.
“We tested 25 samples of eclipse eyewear and found the ISO-certified glasses consistently provided adequate protection required to view the sun during an eclipse,” he said.
Dalde said that not all eyewear marketed as safe for use during an eclipse is actually safe, and urged caution when making purchases. He also said that regular sunglasses used for everyday sun protection, or eyewear for occupational safety eye protection, including Military Combat Eye Protection sunglasses, do not provide the minimum protection to directly view the eclipse.
Additionally, Dalde recommended avoiding the various “do-it-yourself” techniques for making eclipse-viewing gear at home. He did highlight one notable exception to that, however.
NASA, he said, illustrates how to make a “pinhole projector” using a cereal box, paper, tape and aluminum foil. The simple tool can be used to view the eclipse without risking damage to eyesight, Dalde said.
For those who choose not to heed warnings about the dangers of looking at the eclipse, Dalde had some advice.
“If you suspect you have experienced an eye injury due to viewing the eclipse, get an evaluation by an eye care professional as soon as possible,” he said. “Symptoms might develop immediately or in a few days. The severity or type of symptoms may also change over time. The most common indications of possible injury are blurry vision and central blind spots. Color vision can also be affected.”
(Editor’s note: Writer C. Todd Lopez contributed to this article.)