Opticians make a spectacle at lab
November 18, 2010
FORT SILL, Okla.--If a Basic Combat Training Soldier on the rifle range can't see the target because of vision problems, it would be difficult for him or her to qualify on the weapon.
The Reynolds Army Community Hospital optical laboratory specialists help recruits and active-duty service members, who require corrective lenses, to preserve their sight to fight.
"Everything that we touch goes on someone's face, and it helps them to see, to perform their missions," said Anthony Townes, optical lab optician. "If you can't see, you can't fight."
Five Soldiers, two civil service opticians and an administrative assistant fill up to 800 prescriptions of eyewear a day during the recruit summer surge. Although the Fort Sill trainees make up about 90 percent of its customers, the optical fabrication laboratory staff also produces eyewear for Altus, Tinker and Vance Air Force bases in Oklahoma, and Fort Irwin and Marine Corps Base Twentynine Palms in California.
<b>Not your father's BCGs</b>
A recruit who wears glasses is issued five pairs of eyewear, said Sgt. 1st Class Jason English, optical fabrication lab noncommissioned officer in charge.
He or she is given two pairs of the S-9 plastic amber frames, a tinted pair of the S-9s, and prescription inserts for the M40 gas mask as well as the combat eye protection glasses.
The opticians fill a trainees eyeglass request within 24 hours; others' requests are turned around within 72 hours, English said.
The lab only fills single vision prescriptions. Orders for bifocals or other specialized lenses are filled by Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, English said. BAMC also services Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.
Fort Sill opticians also fill orders for service members who have requested a frame of choice the more stylish military frames which come in about 20 different styles and varying colors.
Only service members who are on active duty for more than 30 days, including Reserve and National Guard Soldiers, can get the frame of choice, English said. Recruits have to wait until they get to advanced individual training before they can order the stylish frames.
The lab receives electronic work orders through the Special Request and Transfer System, which show the patient's unit, prescription and type of frames requested, said Staff Sgt. David Bennett, optical lab production NCO.
Work orders are put in color coded trays along with the frames and plastic CR-39 stock lenses, which already have powers ground into them
The lenses are then placed on a Verifier SL-60 where their optical axes are matched to the patient's prescription. The machine uses Lab Management System software which reads work order bar codes, and can immediately detect if a wrong power lens was pulled from stock.
The lenses are then placed on a National Optronics 7E edger machine to cut them to fit the selected frame. Nine machines cut lenses and smooth their sharp edges making them safer to handle.
"We do about 100 pairs of glasses in 40 minutes," said Anthony Falotico, optician.
The tray with the work order, frame and cut lenses is taken to another station where the lenses are mounted.
At the quality assurance station, completed glasses are inspected for bent frames, tight screws and chipped lenses. About 10 percent of the eyeglass lenses are tested on an auto lensometer to ensure their prescriptions match the doctors' orders, Townes said.
Spectacles that pass the inspection are then packaged for shipment.
All the opticians are trained to work at any of the production stations, though each has their particular favorite, English said.
The active-duty optical laboratory specialists attend six months of AIT at the Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity, or NOSTRA, in Yorktown, Va. With only 151 68H Soldiers in ranks E-7 and below, it is one of the smaller military occupational specialties, English said. The Army Medical Command is considering consolidating the 68H field with another medical MOS soon.
When the opticians deploy and work in their MOS they are part of an optometry team, English said. The team consists of two eye doctors, two eye technicians and two optometrists.
The optometrists have field setups where they can fabricate eyewear just like in the lab, Bennett said.
"You can do everything that we do here, but without the high-dollar equipment," Bennett said.
Next year, the optical fabrication lab will begin to use polycarbonate lens inserts in protective eyewear, English said.
"Polycarbonate lenses are very strong. It's what the ballistic eye protection outside lenses are made of," he said. The prescription inserts will be made with polycarbonate lenses, too, instead of the CR-39 plastic.
The lab has an agreement with their counterparts including NOSTRA and BAMC to assist with their workloads if they are experiencing a manpower shortage or have an increase in work orders that they might have difficulty filling.
"We're all tied together," Bennett said. "If one clinic is in a backlog, another clinic is just a phone call away."