"Eyes on" the mission

  • Published
  • By By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
To provide support for nuclear deterrence and global strike operations, Airmen first need to be able to see.

Members of the 509th Medical Operations Squadron (MDOS) are responsible for providing vision care to more than 2,000 Service members each year. The optometry clinic at Whiteman leads this charge by offering routine eye exams to all active-duty members, to include spectacle and aircrew contact lens exams, refractive surgery evaluations and occupational exams.

Active-duty Service members in need of routine eye care are required to visit the clinic at Whiteman. Dependents and retirees are also eligible to receive their care here, and are seen on a space-available basis.

"Vision-ready means mission-ready," said Staff Sgt. Amanda Richardson, 509th MDOS optometry craftsman. "You don't want a pilot to fly a plane, a maintainer to fix a jet or a technician to give you a shot if they cannot see."

If a person cannot see, they are less prepared to do their job, she said.

"Our job does affect a lot of people on base, especially with gas mask inserts," Richardson said. "If an Airman is required to, but doesn't, have gas mask inserts, then he or she can't deploy."

Because Air Force Global Strike Command inspects Whiteman annually to determine if personnel are ready to deploy at a moment's notice, something as simple as Airmen not having gas mask inserts can certainly be detrimental to the wing's mission.

In addition to making sure patients have the proper gas mask inserts prior to deployments, optometry technicians also perform pre-screenings, which test patients' eyes before they are seen by an optometrist.

"The pre-screening includes checking vision, asking numerous health history questions and performing vision tests before sending them to see the doctor," said Alyssa White, 509th MDOS optometry technician. "My duties also include ordering and dispensing spectacles and performing repairs."

The technicians use a variety of tools and equipment, valued at more than $150,000, to accommodate patients who have different needs.

"We have patients who have borderline glaucoma or other medical conditions that require special visual testing for many different diseases," White said.

The assortments of tools technicians use also help them pinpoint the location of disease in the eye.

"If a part of a patient's eye is affected internally, then we'll need to be able to see it differently from what we see externally," Richardson said. "There are multiple parts to the eyeball, all of which are complex in their own way.

"The eyeball is also one of the few ways that the overall health of veins and arteries can be checked without being overly invasive," Richardson said. "Doctors can even check to see if patients have diabetes or hypertension by looking in their eyes."

Not only is a healthy set of eyes a good indicator of a patient's overall health, but it is also essential to have clear vision while operating a motor vehicle, White said.

"You don't want to hit a cat or a deer crossing the road," White said, "or accidentally miss a stop sign. Sometimes difficulty seeing while driving at night is the first indication that you might need glasses."

Vehicle operators need to be able to see when speed limits change on base, especially in base housing, which has a speed limit of 5 mph when children are playing near the roads, Richardson said.

Whether helping out a patient during an appointment or repairing a pair of eyeglasses, members of the 509th MDOS always ensure the concerns of each patient are met.

"When we can help the patients, it's satisfying, because we know we've changed their quality of life," said Dr. (Maj.) Michael Bogaard, 509th MDOS optometrist and medical services flight commander. "Our doors are also open for acute vision needs. We always try our best to help people out."