THE GOAL: STRIKE THE ENEMY FIRST!!
Heinz Thummel, founder of Laser Devices, Inc., has come a long way since he escaped the wrath of the Communists, traveling by train from East to West Germany in 1961 before the Berlin Wall was built. The East German Commies were on his tail after finding out about his underground activities. After some time in a refugee camp he found his way to Switzerland, where he studied mechanical engineering and plasma physics. From there he came to the United States to research the new laser technology at the University of California at Berkley.
Heinz and SOF‘s RKB, both visionaries with consummate persistence, go back a long way. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, they were both fighting Communism in different ways and in different places, unaware of each other—RKB volunteered for Vietnam and Heinz, although prepared to go, was instead recruited to conduct research at the University of California at Berkley.
“I was ready to go,” Heinz told SOF. “I was standing in line, ready to do my duty when I was reclassified so I could work on the lasers. The students were protesting the war on the campus and I was building the first laser sights.”
The two hardcore Cold Warriors never gave up on defeating the Communists, whether RKB was on the ground in El Salvador, Afghanistan, or other Communist playgrounds, or whether Heinz was tirelessly figuring out how his laser devices could help the U.S. troopers beam in on enemy targets and strike them first. Heinz’s plan was to be the first to develop an aiming laser for military and law enforcement weapons. He has fulfilled that dream in a big way.
Now they are both heavily involved in the War on Terror: RKB is still loudly supporting the troops, reaching out to hundreds of thousands of readers, and Heinz is supplying hundreds of thousands of the troops with accurate sights.
RKB’s and Heinz’s paths began to cross in the mid1980s at the wild, notorious and very vendor friendly SOF conventions in Las Vegas. Heinz had developed the first helium–neon (He–Ne) plasma tube laser in 1969 and applied for the first patent in 1970. He became a citizen in 1972 and married his wife, Martie, in 1974. From the beginning, his target audience was military and law enforcement, because as he told SOF, he was sure that once the
Johnny-come-lately commanders realized that his lasers would save lives, they would be convinced of their value.
The military and law enforcement acceptance took a lot of dogged convincing and persistence. But it didn’t take SOF’s RKB long to be fascinated with the new equipment. “Even if the laser only had the slightest chance of being adopted and saving troopers’ lives, I was on board,” RKB said. SOF tested a sight, introduced it to SOF readers in Galin Geer’s “Geer on Gear” column, and Heinz immediately had a new following. “From the first mention of my laser sights in SOF, the readers have always wanted to know about every new sight we’ve introduced,” Heinz told Geer. SOF arranged for police officers in Canon City, namely Colorado police officer Allen Cooper, to test the sights for SOF. The police officers declared the sights a success.
LASER DEVICES JOINS SOF ESCAPADES
The risk-taking Heinz has supported some of SOF’s “save-the-world,” or maybe just seeking wild adventure, escapades. SOF contributing editor Galen Geer often recalls one of the most memorable projects in the mid-1990s. SOF and Heinz became involved in training South African wildlife officers and game scouts at the Gold Fields Training Facility on the Songimvelo Game Reserve.
“’We need some laser sights,’ the wildlife officer told me. ‘We frequently cull excess game animals at night, plus
we’ve found that poachers will surrender without firing their weapons when a laser beam suddenly hits their chest and they realize they will die if they fight.’” Galen recalls.
It’s a simple theory and it works, for wildlife officers and for military and law enforcement officers sighting in on their targets. Geer contacted Heinz. “I’ll help if you will go train them on the lasers,” Heinz told him. He often stresses the need for training for laser accuracy. “The package that arrived from Laser Devices floored the SOF staff. Every patrol leaving the Songimvelo headquarters would be equipped with laser sights on their rifles. We had training targets, laser sights for the rifles and handguns, and even laser pointers for the instructors to use in the classrooms. Bob Arnold, a friend of Laser Devices and an enthusiastic SOF reader, volunteered to help train the officers and game scouts at the South African Gold Fields facility,” Geer recalls.
LASER DEVICES GO TO WAR
For thirty years, Heinz has continued to design and develop new, state-of-the-art products for use by our military units, law enforcement agencies, and special operations teams. The EOLAD system combined Laser Devices’ precision laser technology with the speed of the L-3 EOTech 552 holographic sight. He is also developing third-generation military aiming lasers that will offer a variety of new capabilities for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Laser Devices celebrated its 30th anniversary on 24 September at its new headquarters and manufacturing facility,
a 30,000-square-foot site in Monterey, California. The company had outgrown its previous facility since it was awarded part of the Multi-Functional Aiming Light (MFAL) Contract issued by the U.S. Department of Defense on 1 September, 2005. The military finally came around to Heinz’s way of thinking in a big way.
The 5-year contract, valued at $550 million, is for the purchase of up to 340,000 units of the AN/PEQ-15A (DBAL-A2) Dual Beam Aiming Laser. The AN/PEQ-15A is currently in use by U.S. military forces in their fight against terrorists around the globe. The Mayor of the City of Monterey, Chuck Della Sala, other local government leaders, and representatives from a number of military branches and business partners were among the 100 invitees who attended the event.
Unfortunately, we were unable to attend since we were putting out fires during the final stages of shipping Soldier of Fortune magazine’s December issue.
The company has grown from 30 employees in 2000 to 155 currently, and expects to expand to 250 employees within the next few years. Heinz and Martie take enormous pride in the fact that all of Laser Devices’ products are 100 percent American-made at their Monterey production facilities.
Laser Devices, Inc.