|Battlefield Vision: Eyeglasses for
|by Captain Joy A. Schmalzle
Have you ever wondered how a Soldier gets a new
pair of eyeglasses if his become scratched, broken, or lost
during a deployment? Well, wonder no more! Soldiers can order
glasses in theater and, on some occasions, have them fabricated
within 24 hours.
In Iraq, the optical fabrication mission is to maintain the
optical readiness of all supported units by providing efficient
and timely optical fabrication services, assisting commanders
in ordering and procuring all required spectacle devices (including
ballistic eyewear), and sustaining vision readiness and unit
The optical fabrication mission started in Operation Iraqi
Freedom (OIF) 1 with the deployment of the 172d Medical Logistics
Battalion, an Army Reserve unit from Ogden, Utah, that filled
roughly 1,700 orders. During OIF 2, the 226th Medical Logistics
Battalion from Miseau, Germany, picked up the mission and produced
nearly 5,000 orders in theater.
The 32d Medical Logistics Battalion, an Active Army unit under
the 44th Medical Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, deployed
in support of OIF 04–06 and filled a record 22,337 orders.
The 226th Medical Logistics Battalion returned for OIF 05–07
as the 226th Multifunctional Medical Battalion (MMB) and continued
the mission by producing 14,693 pairs of spectacles. The 32d
Medical Logistics Battalion is now an MMB and is back for OIF
06–08 as part of Task Force 3 Medical Command, which
provides the full spectrum of healthcare services to military
personnel in Iraq.
vividly illustrates the value of combat eye protection.
Lens Prescriptions and Frames
To have a pair of glasses fabricated, a Soldier needs a copy
of his spectacle prescription. A spectacle prescription that
is dated within the past year is best, but, if a Soldier
is in theater and he needs glasses critically, any personal
will suffice. The prescription should include the pupillary
distance, which is the distance between the centers of the
pupils of each eye. Having the correct pupillary distance
ensures that the optical centers of the lenses will line
over the Soldier’s pupils. Glasses made without the individual’s
correct pupillary distance may be less comfortable. When
the spectacle prescription is small, Soldiers who wear a
glasses fabricated with an incorrect pupillary distance may
or may not notice a difference; with larger prescriptions,
glasses without the correct pupillary distance may cause
eye strain. If glasses are very poorly aligned, they may
discomfort, distortion, or headaches.
If a Soldier does not have an actual prescription handy, he
has several options. He can go to 1 of the 12 optometrists
who currently are deployed in theater to have a refraction
done to determine his prescription. Or he may bring an old
pair of spectacles to an optometry clinic or the fabrication
lab to have the prescription read by a special optical device,
the lensometer. If he has already ordered glasses while deployed,
he may go back to that clinic and have that prescription looked
up in the Spectacle Request Transmittal System. A fourth option
is on its way: the Army is currently working on a system that
will allow Soldiers to request their past military prescriptions
on a website and order the needed eyewear with the click of
a mouse. This initiative will eliminate the need for lengthy
and time-consuming round-trip visits to the nearest optometry
asset in theater just to obtain a spectacle prescription.
Once the Soldier has determined his prescription, he needs
to select a frame. Within theater, the optical laboratories
are limited to the following frames: the frame of choice (FOC)
model number 350 LO (Land Operations) in black or silver, 801
LO in silver and copper, and flight goggle LO in black and
silver. [The Army FOC program allows Soldiers to select a civilian-style
frame for one of their two pairs of military-issue glasses.]
These frames were selected specifically because they fit underneath
the land operations goggles, thus allowing Soldiers with eyeglass
prescriptions to wear combat eye protection (CEP). Also available
are the standard MS9 and FS9 military and flight spectacles
(otherwise known as birth control glasses, or BCGs, because
of their high durability but nonexistent aesthetic value),
the MCU2 or MAG1 (Ranger) glasses, the BLPS (ballistic/laser
protective spectacles) M40 pro-mask insert, and a prescription
lens carrier for the Uvex XC, ESS [Eye Safety Systems, Inc.]
ICE [interchangeable component eyeshield] II, Revision Sawfly,
or Body Specs pistol combat eye protection.
pulls lens blanks (which correlate to the power
of the patient’s prescription) that will be
used to fabricate lenses.
||A lensometer is used to measure the power and cylindrical
of a lens.
|A lens is placed on a block to
properly align the lens.
|A technician edges a lens to fit into the frame.
|To create sunglasses, lenses are placed into a tint bath
until they reach the desired darkness.
||The OptiCast system is used to
Combat Eye Protection
Lessons learned from recent conflicts have demonstrated that
10 percent of casualties can be expected to incur eye injuries
and that 90 percent of eye injuries are preventable. In a war
in which improvised explosive devices, mortars, sand, wind,
and dust are encountered on a daily basis, it is imperative
that a Soldier be outfitted with individual ballistic and ultraviolet
A and B radiation eye protection.
Several protective eyewear systems are currently approved for
Army use. Some of these systems can be worn only by individuals
who do not require prescription lenses, while others can be
worn by both prescription
and non-prescription eyewear users.
For Soldiers who require a prescription, the Uvex XC, ESS
ICE II, Revision Sawfly, and Body Specs Pistol eyewear
non-prescription wearers, the Wiley X SG–1 and PT–1
and the Oakley SI Military M frame are additional options.
All Soldiers also are authorized to wear the ESS LO goggle,
the ESS vehicle operations goggle, and the ESS low profile
NVG goggle. The arena flakjak goggle is only for Soldiers
who do not require optical correction.
All CEP must pass extraordinary tests that challenge the
ballistic protection, flame retardance, and other elements
of safety. At this time, five CEP items accept an optical
insert. The CEP items that hold an insert must pass additional
tests to ensure that the insert is securely fastened within
the CEP and does not create a hazard of its own. Combining
a CEP item with an insert can also challenge the optics
of the system. In poorly designed systems, Soldiers with
prescriptions could find the optics distorted or uncomfortable.
The ideal way to order spectacles from the lab is through the
Spectacle Request Transmittal System (SRTS). This method is
possible only if units are collocated with, or have access
to, optometry assets within the theater. For units without
access to SRTS, the optical fabrication lab has established
an online account to receive orders electronically. Orders
can be submitted in the form of a scanned prescription, a DD
Form 771 (Eyewear Prescription), or an email containing the
The following items are the minimum information required
to process an order—
- The patient’s name, rank, and Social Security number.
- The patient’s address, to include unit and Army post office (APO).
- A current spectacle prescription.
- The patient’s pupillary distance.
- The frame type and quantity.
Some information is not required, but it is helpful
in ensuring that the Soldier receives properly fitted spectacles.
This information can be found on a previous DD 771. If not
supplied, the lab will substitute information as needed. This
- Frame model number.
- Frame eye and bridge size. [The bridge is the piece of eyewear that
connects the lenses over the nose.]
- Frame color.
- Frame temple length and type. [Temples are the arms of eyewear, running
from the lenses to the ears.]
- Segment height (for multifocal prescriptions only).
For prescriptions that are transmitted through SRTS, the
optical lab prints out a DD 771 that lists all of the information needed
to fabricate the spectacles. The technician looks at the prescription,
makes sure it falls within the lab’s capabilities, edits the
prescription, and pulls the lens blanks that will be used to fabricate
the lenses and places them in a tray. The lenses then are taken to
the lensometer, and the optical centers are dotted for proper placement
of the “block.” The lenses then are “edged” and
safety-beveled to prevent flaking and sharp edges.
If the lenses will be used as sunlenses, they are placed
in a tint bath until they reach the desired darkness, then cleaned, placed
into the frame, and inspected. The finished eyewear then is wrapped and
packaged for shipping through the Military Postal Service (MPS).
The optical fabrication lab also is outfitted with an OptiCast
System, which is used to fabricate bifocal lenses. A liquid monomer is
injected between two molds and a specially designed gasket. The mold
assembly then is placed in a light-curing chamber and allowed to harden
overnight. The next day, the lenses are ready to be edged and inserted
into the frame.
The estimated time needed to complete an order depends on
the lab’s workload, though most glasses are generally shipped within
48 hours of an order’s receipt. Emergency orders can be processed
in as little as 1 hour for single-vision glasses and 24 hours for bifocals
if the lenses are in stock. If the lenses are out of stock or out of
the lab’s range of capability, the orders are forwarded to the
labs at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Europe in Pirmasens, Germany,
or the Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity at Yorktown, Virginia.
Turn-around time for orders sent to Germany or Virginia may vary from
2 to 6 weeks.
Once the glasses are made, they are packaged for shipment
and dropped off at the post office and shipped via MPS. Orders are sent
directly to the address provided by the unit, clinic, or individual Soldier.
The class VIII (medical materiel) supply system is also used to deliver
to locations with optical forward distribution teams.
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,
Captain Joy A. Schmalzle, O.D., F.A.A.O.,
is the Chief of Optical Fabrication in the 32d Multifunctional
Medical Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (currently stationed
Anaconda in Iraq). She has a B.A. degree in psychology from
West Chester University of Pennsylvania, a B.S. degree in basic science
and a Doctor
of Optometry degree from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry,
and was residency-trained at the State University of New York College
She is a graduate of the Medical Department Captains Career