The Eye Safety Systems Inc. Web site prominently features customer testimonials. Soldiers, police officers and firefighters describe how ESS goggles and spectacles saved their eyesight, if not their lives:
``On Sept. 7, 2004, my team was involved in operations in southern Iraq. The Humvee that I was gunning encountered an [improvised explosive device - a 155-millimeter artillery shell]. The IED exploded 10 feet from the vehicle. I sustained numerous injuries but none to my eyes or the area surrounding my eyes due to your goggles,'' said Staff Sergeant Dammon Sharp.
Other testimonials are from a handgun trainer in New York, a man whose bullets exploded at a shooting range, firefighters who needed the eyewear to stave off smog and several soldiers who came within a spectacle of taking shrapnel in the eye. All were amazed that nothing penetrated the polycarbonate lenses.
``We are pretty much the sole supplier to the U.S. Army. They haven't issued an exclusive contract. The U.S. military doesn't do that much,'' said Steve Dondero, ESS marketing manager. His father, John Dondero, is ESS president and founder.
The elder Dondero got his start designing eyewear in the sports industry more than 20 years ago, engineering for JT Racing Products of Lancaster, Calif., and Smith Sport Optics Inc. in Ketchum, Idaho. He created goggles for motocross racing and paintball before going into business for himself.
ESS opened in January 1998. At first it was difficult to sell to the armed services. ``We got an `in' with the firefighters first. It was tricky trying to break into the `cool kid' circle [the military]. Then we got a foot in the door with the Navy six years ago. Then it spread to the Army and then the Marines,'' said the younger Dondero.
The model of goggles that ESS replaced was named the ``sun, wind and dust goggle.'' That product had been accepted for use in 1945 and had not changed since then, with the exception of a tweaking in the mid-1970s when the lenses were thickened.
Dondero kidded about the sun, wind and dust goggles' inefficiency. ``They make you feel like you're drunk because if you wear them too long, you get dizzy. ... They are the beer goggles.''
In addition to the military's resistance to change, another impediment for ESS was that the Army was trying to design its own goggle. When that project flamed out, ESS was ready to offer its own models as an alternative.
Now the only commercial goggles authorized for use by the Army are Profile NVG, Land Ops and Vehicle Ops models. The Army also approved the Ice-2 spectacle.
The British army recently issued a large contract to ESS for the use of its Advancer V12 goggles and Ice 2.4 spectacles. Dondero estimates that 52 countries use the companies' goggles for their military.
All models are manufactured at ESS' 90,000-square-foot facility in Clearfield, Utah. The lenses are injection molded PC, and most frames are made of a plastic elastomer. ESS maintains its office in Sun Valley, Idaho.
``The best part of what we do is when a soldier or firefighter thanks us. They come up to us at a show and say, `Thank you for your product. I slept in my goggles over there [in active duty], and they kept me safe. I might be blind or dead without you,' '' Dondero said.