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Eyewear in Battle

All branches of the U.S. Military attempt to achieve quick and efficient delivery of ophthalmic and protective eyewear to military personnel in the battlefield.

All branches of the U.S. Military attempt to achieve quick and efficient delivery of ophthalmic and protective eyewear to military personnel in the battlefield.

Trainee Brady Fender gets his new frame-of-choice glasses adjusted Feb. 5 by Staff Sgt. Dedrick Mayers, an optometry journeyman in the 37th Aerospace Medicine Squadron. (USAF photo by Robbin Cresswell)

Trainee Cameron Cruz adjusts his black-rimmed frame-of-choice glasses, while Trainee Logan Schneider prepares to open the case of his newly received glasses. (USAF photo by Robbin Cresswell)

Ophthalmic emergencies in civilian life can be problematic. Without the safety measure of a second pair of spectacles, the eyeglass consumer is at risk. Examples may be: broken or missing lenses, misaligned frames and temples, scratched lenses and finally, the glasses that were misplaced or stolen. But what about our military men and women? The media is filled with action in Iraq every day of the week. If, as eye care professionals, we would be required to administer proper eye correction and protection for our troops at the front lines, what would be expected from us?

A pair of glasses, in many cases, can be supplied to a soldier in battle within an hour. The military units in charge of the care and maintenance of eyeglasses for our soldiers are dedicated to providing excellence in service, materials and proper ordering regulations according to Army codes and forms. Cooperation must be sought at all levels of the unit with the ultimate goal of mission readiness and capabilities.

Captain Joy A. Schmalzle, OD, FAAO is the Chief of Optical Fabrication in the 32nd Multifunctional Medical Battalion. She has a BA degree in psychology, a BS degree in basic science and a Doctor of Optometry degree from PCO. She trained at SUNY college of Optometry during her residency. Captain Schmalzle is considered an expert in her field.

In her reports for the "Army Logistician" bulletin she describes the origins of the "eyeglass fabrication mission" at the Iraq front. The 172nd Medical Logistics Battalion, an army reserve unit from Ogden, Utah, filled the majority of eyeglass orders. The remainder was fabricated in Miseau, Germany where the 226th Medical Logistics Battalion took charge of the mission and produced an extraordinary number of eyeglasses to be used in the Iraq theater of combat.

The 32nd Medical Logistics Battalion filled a record breaking 22,337 orders in 2006. By May, 2007, an additional1 4,693 pairs of spectacles were fabricated. This battalion is operating full scale in Iraq as part of a Medical Command which provides full services to Iraq military personnel.

The soldier/patient must be in possession of a copy of their spectacle prescription, including an accurate P.D. measurement. If the soldier does not have a current prescription, they may refer to a team of optometrists usually assigned with the deployment, so that an updated prescription may be obtained. The soldier may also have their Rx read via of a lensometer. 

If glasses were ordered prior to deployment, a Spectacle Request Transmittal System will enable the patient to have access to records that can be forwarded to their battalion unit medical headquarters so that spectacles can be provided at the earliest moment. In addition, the Army is trying to develop a system which can provide a soldier�s Rx via a special website so that a mere click of the mouse eliminates valuable time wasted for several visits to an optometrist before obtaining a prescription.

In any given theater of deployment, optical labs are limited to certain frame choices. Black or silver metal frames are available as standard issue. This includes a goggle shape as well. The program permits a selection of a civilian type frame for one of their two military issue glasses. Army issued frames are dispensed since they are made to fit beneath the special goggles used in land operations under combat conditions. Another combat military design is amusingly known as" birth control glasses" because they are tough, resistant to damage and possess no aesthetic appearance. Prescriptions may be supplied for special helmets and goggles connected to laser/ballistic technology. There are a number of safety lens parameters available.

Maneuvers or battle engagements will predictably incur a number of eye injuries; many of these injuries are preventable. Some causes, dealt with daily are: explosive devices, mortars, sand, wind, and dust. Ballistic and ultraviolet radiation requires eye protection. All combat eye protection spectacles undergo severe test for optimum performance. Flame retardation and other safety features are required for combat protection eyewear to be acceptable. Five frame types can be fitted with a lens insert. It is mandatory that these Rx inserts pass additional testing to ensure their safety. In some cases the optics of a poorly aligned system could cause distortion and discomfort for the wearer. 

In addition to the Spectacle Request Transmittal System, an alternative method is the use of an online account with a lab to receive orders electronically. Orders can be received by scanning or sending an email containing the needed information. Also, the order must include the soldier�s Social Security number, rank, unit and Army Post Office designation. The lens blanks are placed in a tray and then are dotted, blocked and edged. Tints are applied where indicated. The lenses are then inserted in the frame which is supplied and packaged for shipping through the Military Postal Service. Bifocal lenses may take longer. If the lenses are out of stock or beyond the lab capability, they are sent to labs in Pirmasens, Germany or Yorktown, VA. In these cases, delivery of the eyewear may take as much as six weeks.

Dr. Schmalzle offers the view, "Optical fabrication is an asset that is a force multiplier. It allows for quick, efficient delivery of eyewear that keeps our troops vision ready and, therefore, mission ready." 


US Air Force ROTC Vision Requirements

Normal color vision 
Distant vision: Uncorrected 20/70, but corrected to 20/20 
Near vision: Uncorrected 20/30, but corrected to 20/20 
Meet refraction, accommodation and astigmatism requirements 
Corrective eye surgery could be a disqualifier 

Normal color vision 
Distant vision: Uncorrected 20/200, but corrected to 20/20 
Near vision: Uncorrected 20/40, but corrected to 20/20 
Meet refraction, accommodation and astigmatism requirements 
Corrective eye surgery could be a disqualifier 


Elmer Friedman, O.D.

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Posted: 3/1/2009 11:33:23 PM

I would like to know why the army only issues only one pair of glasses to a soldier for a deployment?? I do not need sunglasses, what I requested was 2 pair of glasses and now that they are broke I have no glasses to work with since I got sunglasses.
Posted: 5/7/2013 8:01:30 PM

To daniel.morgan3 The Army issues a minimum of 5 pairs for a deployment or per year. One of those being the Frame of Choice, which are design to be worn in garrison. ( likely the one you broke.) The others being the classic BSGs(most Soldiers opt out), and inserts.
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