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Optometry Soldiers support eye care mission in Africa

Email   Print   Share By Heather Graham-Ashley, Sentinel News Editor
July 18, 2013 | News
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Spc. Kyle Tuttle conducts a pre-screening evaluation on a HHB, 1st Cav. Div., Soldier during a vision readiness mission for 1st Cav. June 18-19. The optometry Soldiers conducted eye exams and care for the Cav troops. (Courtesy photo)
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Glasses built for adults and children are wrapped and packed in preparation for distribution in South Africa in support of AFRICOM’s Southern Accord exercise. Six Soldiers from the 176th Med. Det. (OPT) and 554th Med. Det. (OPT) will provde eye care to African villagers. (Photo by Heather Graham-Ashley, Sentinel News Editor)
Six Fort Hood Soldiers are heading to Africa for a three-week humanitarian mission to help brighten the vision of South African villagers.

Optometry Soldiers from 1st Medical Brigade’s 176th Medical Detachment (Optometry) and 554th Medical Detachment (Optometry) will deploy to South Africa in support of U.S. Africa Command’s Southern Accord, AFRICOM’s annual joint exercise designed to enhance U.S. and Africa relations for humanitarian and disaster relief operations, peacekeeping operations and aeromedical evacuations in sub-Saharan Africa.

It is a mission the Soldiers are looking forward to beginning.

“This helps us improve relationships,” Capt. Justin Pao, commander, 176th Med. Det. (OPT), said. “I am really looking forward to this opportunity.”

Capt. Christopher Alferez, commander, 554th Med. Det. (OPT), said he lives for missions like this one.

“I love humanitarian missions,” he said. “I hope we get more soon.”

While in South Africa, the Soldiers, which include two optometrists, three opticians and a technician, will provide eye examinations and distribute more than 2,200 eye glasses to children and adults in need.

Those glasses, a mixture of reading and distance-vision glasses include 338 designed for children and 1,906 for adults, Pao said.

“That number is a ballpark estimates based on previous missions,” Alferez said, noting that both of the units also participated in last year’s Southern Accord exercise in Botswana.

The glasses were pre-made at the Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity in Yorktown, Va., and will be hand-carried by the Soldiers. They can also be tweaked by adding bifocals when needed, Pao said.

The Soldiers will also take along some common eye medications to provide treatment.

“We can also treat many ocular problems,” Alferez said.

Pao said the glasses they will provide will be an enduring service to the villagers.

“Optometry (treatment) is great because glasses last a long time,” he said. “There’s a lot of bang to your bucks.”

They will be in Africa during the country’s winter and the Soldiers will stay in makeshift buildings in Bisho, South Africa. Villagers will come by bus to receive medical care from the optometry Soldiers and other medical service supporting units.

“There will be other medical teams,” Alferez said. “This is a strictly humanitarian mission.”

Soldiers said helping others motivates them and this will be a good break from the usual deployments.

“Our main mission is a modular unit designed to deploy,” Pao said. “Our mission and our equipment are set-up to be transportable.”

In garrison, the Soldiers provide support for Fort Hood units to enhance and maintain vision readiness, Alferez said.

Last month, they conducted eye exams for Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division, he added.

This short deployment will be a good break for the six troops and all voiced excitement about the nature of the deployment.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the smiles on people’s faces,” Spc. Kyle Tuttle said. “The detachment is doing something good for people who don’t always have these opportunities.”
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