Vision Conservation and Readiness

Personal Protective Equipment - Military Eye Protection

Last Updated: February 06, 2019
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In general, military personnel are the same as many civilians when it comes to requirements for eye protection.  For example, the primary reasons for eye injuries in military personnel tend to be motor vehicle accidents and fights between service personnel.  Eye protection needs in these situations are the same for all.  For a civilian population, 31 percent of eye trauma is associated with blunt objects.   The difference for military personnel is the special situations the military has to deal with that require different forms of injury prevention.  The most obvious risks occur in a combat operations and during training. 

Ocular trauma accounted for less than 1 percent of total battle injuries in the Civil War, and increased incrementally through World Wars I and II.  The rate of combat ocular trauma more than doubled by the Korean War, and rose steadily to reach 13 percent by Operation Desert Storm.  In the 1970s eye injuries were recognized as a growing problem, indicated by experience in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973. Combat in Iraq in the early 1990s found the U.S. military facing desert conditions of heat and dust in addition to all traditional hazards of ground combat. During Operation Enduring Freedom, eye injury rates as a percentage of total battle injuries were found to be in the range of 11-14 percent. They found that modern weapons had characteristics of blast, heat, and ballistic fragments that generated higher proportions of eye injuries than in previous times.  Ballistic fragmentation, where shrapnel and metal debris can be projected towards the eyes at high speeds, can cause severe damage.  There are also the dangers created by the shock waves caused by IEDs which can result in severe injuries without any physical damage.  Also, lasers bring on a new danger for military personnel.  Research is continuing to find better solutions to reduce the risks for all of these situations as well as others.

PEO Soldier says that MCEP "helps ensure Soldiers are visually able to carry out their mission. Eye hazards exist in a variety of forms in both combat and training environments.  They range from fragmenting munitions and other airborne debris, to invisible hazards such as ultraviolet (UV) radiation.  If unprotected, the Soldier is susceptible to short- or long-term effects on their vision.  This can compromise current and future mission effectiveness.  MCEP helps preserve performance in both combat and training by reducing the risks associated with exposure to such hazards.”

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Requirements for Military to Use Eye Protection

The requirement for use of eye protection by military personnel is very clear and not open to interpretation.  In short, wearing a uniform does not mean the same as something being "Military Unique."  As stated on other pages, DoDI 6055.01 DoD Safety and Occupational Health Program External Link states in paragraph 2c that:

"While military personnel are excluded from the definition of "employee" in federal regulatory standards distributed by OSHA in Reference (f), the DoD Components must apply these OSHA standards to military personnel in nonmilitary-unique workplaces. In uniquely military workplaces when compliance with existing SOH standards for military and civilian personnel is impracticable, infeasible, or inappropriate, or when no standard exists for such military application, the DoD Components must apply risk management procedures. The results of the risk management decision must be communicated to all affected personnel. "

"Nonmilitary-unique DoD operations" are defined by DoD the same as it is defined by OSHA in Section 1960.2(i) -Basic Program Elements for Federal Employees OSHA:

"Workplaces and operations comparable to those of industry in the private sector such as: vessel, aircraft, and vehicle repair, overhaul, and modification (except for equipment trials); construction; supply services; civil engineering or public works; medical services; and office work." 

"Uniquely military equipment, systems, and operations" are defined as: 

"The design of Department of Defense equipment and systems that are unique to the national defense mission, such as military aircraft, ships, submarines, missiles, and missile sites, early warning systems, military space systems, artillery, tanks, and tactical vehicles; and excludes operations that are uniquely military such as field maneuvers, naval operations, military flight operations, associated research test and development activities, and actions required under emergency conditions."

So, in short, if someone does the same task outside of the military, OSHA requirements must be applied including the use of appropriate eye protection.    If not, if the task is military specific, apply risk management to determine what can be done to provide eye protection to the warfighter.  When in doubt, it is simplest to require the use of eye protection.

Military Combat Eye Protection (MCEP)

The Military Combat Eye Protection Program (MCEPP) which is managed by Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier External Linkunder the Product Manager Soldier Protective Equipment (PM SPE) External Link  was established to validate and authorize protection eyewear for use by military personnel and works to improve warrior acceptance of the use of protective eyewear  reducing the likelihood of eye injuries.  They manage the Authorized Protective Eyewear List (APEL) External Link as a Qualified Product List (QPL) of commercially available protective eyewear from manufacturers who have had their products examined and tested and have satisfied all applicable qualification requirements for that product.  Noting that body armor has become almost universal, and soldiers have benefited from increased survivability on the battlefield, the MCEPP objective is to make "eye armor" similarly universal during field operations. Since soldiers should "train as they fight," protective eyewear should be worn by soldiers at all stages of their military training.

Fragmentation, optical, and user testing in a field environment are among the tests that eyewear must successfully complete in order to be considered for approval.  Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products that meet the eyewear specification requirements and offer an overall improvement in performance over current products are included on the APEL. The use of MCEP helps preserve performance in both combat and training by reducing risks associated with exposure to hazards ranging from fragmenting munitions and other airborne debris to invisible hazards such as ultraviolet (UV) radiation.  Only eyewear that meets the stringent ballistic fragmentation testing (MED-PRF 32432) and well as ANSI Z87.1 can be approved to make that list.  Other requirements include:

  • Spectacles must be capable of defeating a 0.15 caliber, 5.8 grain, T-37 shaped fragment simulating projectile at 640 feet per second which is much better than the current ANSI standards for high velocity impact requirements.
  • Spectacles must weigh 1.7 ounces or less
  • Goggles must be capable of defeating a the T-37 projectile at 550 feet per second and weigh 5.1 ounces or less
  • Must absorb 99.9 percent of UVA and UVB light
  • Must carry the APEL logo on the eyewear (on the left side).
  • Where laser protection is required, contact PEO Soldier Product Manager SPE through PEO Soldier Contact Us Page External Link

As stated on the Approved Eyewear QPL, "Please be advised that only eyewear on the APEL have been validated against Army requirements for ballistic fragmentation protection. Other commercial eyewear products, even if marked ANSI Z87.1 compliant, do not necessarily meet military impact requirements. Eyewear not on the APEL are not authorized for wear during combat, training, or when there is a risk of impact injury to the eyes."  MCEP is available in a variety of sizes and styles.  Allowing Soldiers a choice in eye protection to meet mission needs, MCEP improves Soldier acceptance of authorized protective eyewear, thus reducing the likelihood of eye injuries.  Identification of APEL products is simple in that all products being provided to the US military under the APEL must bear the "APEL" logo on the left side of the frame and only products sold for military use via government contracts or at AAFES may bear the logo.

Universal Prescription Lens Carriers (UPLCs)

In the past, warfighters who require prescription lenses for their MCEP had to also possess the appropriate Prescription Lens Carrier for their specific spectacle or goggle.  This created a logistic issue in maintaining supplies of all of these inserts and made it that warfighters had to know what MCEP devices they were going to be issued often before they were actually issued them.  As a result, the requirement for a UPLC was implemented.  UPLCs are categorizes as a medical item so warriors who require a prescription must obtain their prescription insert for their device through their garrison optometry clinic, deployed optometry clinic, or medical support section.  Deployed Soldiers may also obtain a replacement prescription through the Government Eyewear System (G-Eyes) External Link  they need to be ordered from an eye clinic.  Also, all inserts are required to be made with polycarbonate lenses - providing additional safety for the warfighter.  Note that not all MCEP items are capable of utilizing the UPLC.  When supplying someone who requires MCEP and needs prescription eyewear, make certain that the devices are UPLC compatible by checking the most recent APEL.

To view the current list of available spectacles and goggles on the APEL, including identification of those that are UPLC compatible, and for additional information regarding specifications and how units can order them, go to APEL External Link.  If you click on one of the devices, it will take you to a page with all of the information about the specific item.  Individuals can purchase them on their own at Military Clothing and Sales Stores and Post Exchanges.  If purchasing for yourself, make certain that the item is (1) an approved item (it will have the APEL logo on the box and (2) that your unit allows you to utilize the particular device.  Note that ALARACT 209/2009 states that the purchase of these items from other sources is not authorized.   There is also a poster that is available for downloading at APEL Poster External Link

It is important to note that all APEL MCEP items do meet ANSI Z87.1 standards so they can be utilized if necessary for those tasks requiring that type of eye protection but are not meant to be a substitute for all types of eye protection for all tasks such as the need to where goggles during refueling operations.  As stated, utilize risk management procedures to determine how to best protect the eyes for those types of operations.

Service Specific Requirements

US Army: Soldiers receive Military Combat Eye Protection (MCEP) upon initial entry, through a Rapid Fielding Initiative, as part of Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment issued by a Central Issue Facility, through unit supply channels or from self purchase. Only items included on the most current Authorized Protective Eyewear List (APEL) list External Link are authorized.  All APEL items manufactured after NOV 2011 will be marked with the letters "APEL" on the frame. Follow this link to APEL Spectacle and Goggle Fact Sheets.

US Navy: Operational requirements drive Navy decisions to issue MCEP to Sailors.

US Air Force: Deploying Airmen receive USAF Ballistic Protective Eyewear which is generally limited to current APEL items.

US Marines: Marines are authorized to wear the ESS Crossbow External Link and the ESS Profile NVG. External Link

DoD Civilians: In general, when prescription or non-prescription safety glasses are required, these are covered by Federal Law, 29 Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) 1910.132(a) and 29 CFR 1910.133(a)(3). External Link

Deployed DoD Civilians: DODI 1400.32 DOD CIVILIAN WORK FORCE CONTINGENCY AND EMERGENCY PLANNING GUIDELINES AND PROCEDURES External Link states: 

6.1.3. Civilian employees should be issued, and trained in the use of uniforms, other equipment and the same protective gear as is issued to military personnel in theater, to include lens inserts, if required.

Gas Masks

The M50 Series protective mask along with the M51 variant is officially known as the Joint Service General Protective Mask (JSGPM) and replaced the M40 and M42, MCU-2/P series masks and the M45 of the Land Warrior Program.  It is a respirator that protects against CB agents, toxins, toxic industrial materials and radioactive particulate matter.   it is not effective against industrial gases such as ammonia or carbon dioxide and is not effective in confined spaces, where the oxygen content of the air may be low. For prescriptive lenses, the M50 is not UPLC compatible and requires the use of the M-50 vision correction assembly pictured to the right.   Available for the mask are clear outserts that protect the mask's visor and is designed to provide additional protection from high velocity projectiles.  It is recommended that the outsert be utilized whenever feasible.

Ordering Military Eyewear

DoD has been producing eyewear for service members and retirees since World War II.  Today, as part of the Optical Fabrication Enterprise (OFE), Army and Navy optical fabrication labs around the world fabricate over 1.2 million pairs of eyewear for eligible beneficiaries each year.   The purpose of the OFE is to coordinate and foster cooperation between the three Services to realize the greatest speed and value for optical fabrication. The Navy is the lead Service for optical fabrication, and the Navy Surgeon General has designated the Commanding Officer of the Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity (NOSTRA) as the Program Executor. The OFE Executor is advised by the Optical Fabrication Advisory Board (OFAB).

The OFAB is chaired by the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, U.S. Army Medical Department.  Voting members of the OFAB include the chair, optometry consultants from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and the lead enlisted opticians from the Army and Navy.  Additional Tri-Service clinicians, opticians, and other support staff are determined as needed by the voting members. The OFAB provides Tri-Service advice and direction from the ophthalmic functional community and reviews all aspects of optical fabrication across the DoD and works in concert with the OFE to continually improve the processes and products of the OFE.

For information on how to order eyewear, go to the NOSTRA Ordering Optical Products External Link  webpage.  this site has information regarding eligibility and how to order your eyewear no matter where you are located.

For information regarding DoD Optical Fabrication and NOSTRA go to the NOSTRA Home Page. External Link

To learn more about the processes involved in the fabrication process at NOSTRA view the NOSTRAmovie. External Link

Finally, for additional information on setting up accounts, ordering eyewear from military treatment facilities or while in remote locations, or for answers regarding any other questions you may have, feel free to contact the NOSTRA Customer Service Department External Link from 0630 to 1530 EST.  Feel free to leave call them at (757) 887-7600 option 1 or email them at usn-nostra-customer-service@mail.mil

As always, if you have any additional questions, feel free to CONTACT US.

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