Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Eyes Have It

I will now take some time to talk about eyewear. As I have mentioned before, I normally wear contact lenses because I'm very nearsighted. However, US military policy prohibits wearing contact lenses in combat zones, so ever since I got on the airplane in October I've been wearing glasses during pretty much all of my waking hours. This can be a bit cumbersome sometimes, especially during the many bright cloudless days when I need to wear sunglasses outdoors. If I'm going to eat at one of the dining facilities, I must put on the sunglasses--which are actually dark protective ballastic lenses with attached prescription inserts--and upon entering the building, remove them and put on my regular glasses so I can see inside the comparatively dim entryway.

But the main thing I wanted to write about was the ridiculous effort it took me to get some new lenses. When I came here, I was wearing glasses that were provided, free of charge, by the government. They were fine, except that the frames weren't quite balanced right. I managed to get them adjusted, but they were just a bit crooked. I was fine with them when we left. After a few weeks in Afghanistan, with the constant moving around, changing of one set with another, the dust, the heat, the cold, what have you, I began to realize the wear and tear was beginning to bug me. The things just weren't comfortable anymore. They were starting to get more scratches. One of the nosepiece pads snapped in half (!) one day, making things that much more uncomfortable. I needed new glasses. Also, I lost a set of my prescription ballistic inserts, so I needed another one of those.

Back in November, I went to the optometry section at the hospital. I didn't need a new prescription, I informed them, just new glasses. After examining the glasses I had on, I was told it would take a while..."six to eight weeks." Why? Because apparently my prescription is so thick that they couldn't carve the lenses properly here, so they'd have to order new ones from the closest US supply base--in Germany. I was puzzled, given that I could order new lenses from the US and have them shipped within a week, but no problem, I could deal for a couple of more months. Which came, and went. Then another month. When my "six to eight weeks" had long expired and I had no new eyewear, I went back.

"I ordered new glasses and lens inserts back in November, and they're not here yet. I need to get some new ones." "Well, sometimes it takes a really long time." "Well, some other people I work with got theirs in two weeks." "But your prescription is really bad, so it just takes longer." Not completely convinced, I walked away.

After waiting a few more weeks, I realized I needed to be more proactive. I decided that I'd go to optometry and actually get the numbers on my prescription. While I was there, they managed to put in another order for me, and this time the Specialist who normally handles things got a Major involved as well to make sure they got it right. I requested a paper copy of the prescription, and they printed one from my file.

When I got back to my room, I got on my computer and looked up I placed an order for some frames that I like, very similar to my previous set, and put in my prescription. Perhaps this would give me a solution. I can't be sure exactly how long it took my new glasses to arrive, because I was off the base with the Brass Quintet for a few days. But less than two weeks after I placed my $39 order, my new glasses came and were waiting for me when I got back. They fit well, and were properly balanced. They even got my prescription right! So for those of you who are not in the military, I can vouch for I took my previous glasses and cut off the nosepieces and earpieces, and with a careful application of duct tape I improvised new inserts for my sunglasses. They worked about as well as "real" inserts. At last, I was content with my eyewear.

About two days later, my ballistic inserts arrived. And a day or two after that, my regular glasses. I still am not sure if those are from my first order, or the recent one. But it is nice to know I have a set of backups if I need one.


  1. So, I'm nerdy...and I always read your blog when it's been updated. The journalist in me LOVES the perspective of an atypical soldier. Atypical in that you serve a very unique role, that is. Stay safe. =)

    And how annoying about the glasses. Do they not allow you to have transition lenses? I ask that knowing full well that I hate my transition lenses. It was a waste of my money since they don't transition while I'm in the car.

  2. We can get commercially available transition lenses, but the military doesn't pay for them and I don't use them myself. However, there are situations, like ceremonies, when we aren't "supposed" to wear transitions because they won't match what everyone else is wearing.