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Expeditionary Optometry sees the mission in a new light

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The need to provide specific medical care for deployed members as well as dependents alike is growing here. With minimal outside medical resources in the area, Airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Medical Group optometry clinic look to do more with less.   

Since 2003, coalition numbers have grown.  Words and phrases such as “dependent” and “permanent party” are now common nomenclature. Operating with a fully functional medical group is an important function that keeps Airmen flying and families healthy.

“Because the expectation is that people deploy with two pair of glasses, ballistics eyewear or gas mask inserts or anything they need, we are here in the event that they break,” said Capt Lauren Matthews, 379th EMDG optometrist. “As well for permanent party or 365’s, we now can do routine examines for them, too.”

Getting a regular checkup can prevent symptoms of glaucoma or other deformities inside the eye.  Families and deployed members are able to come in for exams as needed. The clinic can conduct several types of tests to help diagnose patients; if a situation is deemed urgent, the member would be flown out of country to a specialist.

“We currently  have the capabilities to perform routine eye exams, in the near future we will have the capabilities to diagnosis and monitor ocular diseases,” said Matthews. “We are working on getting an Optical Coherence Tomography to see retinal and nerve heads in 3D, so patients don’t have to go to Landstuhl, Germany or downtown to see a specialist.”    

Matthews talked about the several types of testing they can perform for those assigned to Al Udeid Air Base. Some help detect or monitor peripheral vision, depth perception and pressure checks. She is not alone in the mission; she is part of a two-person team which makes up the clinic.

“I worked in optometry for six months then ophthalmology for three years before coming here back to optometry,” said Senior Airman Adlai Ceja. “Working at home station, we are surgery driven; here it is more vision, pressure, color testing and making sure everyone is mission ready.”

Ceja is new to the mission here but has been able to adjust to ensure deployed members are taken care of either as a walk-in or through set appointments. With knowledge of two separate sides of eye care, he is excited to help the mission here and understands the importance of the medicine.

“I went to my first duty station and actually really liked it and then went to ophthalmology. I started loving it because I got to see how the eye works and why we do certain things. I was like ‘wow, everything I do really impacts this person’s vision,” said Ceja.

Having a love for the medical field take a certain kind of person and being able to apply those skills to men, women and children in the far corners of the world makes optometry Airmen rare. Matthews explained that it is such unique career field that you never know what you’re going to see. Optometrists recommend beginning a yearly eye exam to ensure healthy eyes stay in the skies.