Your unit has deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq or the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk and there is a firefight. During the battle, your glasses are destroyed and without them you’re not sure if you would be able to continue your daily missions.


Your unit has deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq or the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk and there is a firefight. During the battle, your glasses are destroyed and without them you’re not sure if you would be able to continue your daily missions.
There’s no need to fear — the 33rd Optical Detachment is here.
As part of Fort Polk’s 115th Combat Support Hospital, the 33rd Optical Det is responsible for providing replacement glasses for deployed soldiers, as well as handling trauma cases that might come in during a deployment.
“We have both a clinical and emergency side,” said Staff Sgt. Nick Baer, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 33rd Optical Det. “We provide routine eye care, make glasses and do eye exams, but in combat, we’re the eye trauma specialists.”
The five-soldier 33rd Optical Det — along with an extra optometrist from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio — spent 14 days with the 48th Combat Support Hospital during the Army Reserve Unit’s recent rotation at Fort Polk.
“When the 115th Combat Support Hospital deploys, we go with them,” Baer said. “When we’re in garrison, we do a lot of training — like what we’re doing now — to prepare for deployment.”
Baer said there are two unique aspects of his detachment: Speed and mobility.
“We can do everything a soldier needs in the same day: The doctor sees them, writes the prescription, we make their glasses and they get the finished product before the end of the same day,” he said. “Also, the whole lab fits in the back of a five-ton truck; we can jump at a moment’s notice anywhere we’re needed.”
Sgt. Keith Thomas is a medic with the 33rd Optical Det. The combat veteran said the pace of his current unit is a bit slower than he is used to.
“All I’ve ever worked with before here is field units,” Thomas said. “I’m used to seeing severe wounds, but this is more routine. While I prefer being out with the infantry guys because it’s a faster pace, it’s been great here. I’m learning a lot about eyes.”
Spc. Latoya Stewart is the unit’s optical fabricator — the soldier who actually makes the glasses. During the first week of the exercise with 48th CSH, Stewart cranked out 113 pairs of glasses.
“No problem,” she replied, when asked if her goal of providing same day service to soldiers was difficult. “The only problem would be having enough materials — lenses — on hand. If I’ve got them, I can make them.”
Stewart said it takes her about five minutes to make a set of glasses.
“Most people are amazed that I can make glasses that fast,” she said.
Providing glasses and exams to soldiers in the field is important, Stewart said.
“AR 40-5 and 40-63 prohibit soldiers from wearing contact lenses in the field,” she said. “That’s why we make sure we have plenty of frames and lenses when we deploy.”
As Spc. Damion DeJesus, 48th CSH, picked up his pair of glasses after his exam earlier in the morning, he said same-day service was nice.
“It makes me wonder why it takes so long to get glasses back when we’re in garrison,” he said.
Capt. Lee Johnson, an optometrist at BAMC, said the exercise was his first time to conduct exams in the field.
“I never envisioned doing anything like this when I was in school,” he said. “It’s been interesting to roll up in a truck, set up a clinic and go to work.”
Johnson said he’s been surprised at the little things he’s had to work around — things he had always taken for granted.
“You’d be surprised at the adaptations you have to make, like chairs that don’t raise and lights that don’t roll easily across the floor,” Johnson said. “It’s valuable training because as a soldier, you never know when you’ll have to be deployed.”
While he enjoys being stationed at BAMC — “You see more interesting cases” — Johnson said the opportunity to work with the 33rd Optical Det has been invaluable.
“Here it’s all about serving soldiers in the field,” he said. “Occasionally you might deal with trauma, but this is as close as it gets to ‘real army.’”
Col. Thomas Johnson is commander of the 48th CSH and was the medical task force commander for the two-week exercise. He said the event afforded his unit the opportunity to work on problem solving, team building and command and control issues. He also pointed out how nice it was to train with active-duty units.
“Having active-duty and reserve components working together is not necessarily unique, but it’s good training,” he said. “It helps us see how we work together in the field. I also got my eyes examined and a set of glasses; that shows it works.”
Col. Johnson said he’s received positive feedback from his soldiers about training at JRTC.
“My soldiers tell me that this is the best set up they’ve ever seen for training,” he said. “I feel that the Joint Readiness Training Center has been great for our soldiers and provided them a lot of real-world type training.”
Capt. Harris Abbasi, commander of the 33rd Optical Det and an optometrist, said he enjoys taking his unit to the field. Unlike Capt. Johnson, Abbasi said he’s always envisioned himself as a field doctor.
“I was an Army brat, so I could always see myself doing this,” he said. “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
The combat veteran said he did not have the benefit of JRTC training before heading to war.
“If we would have had this kind of training opportunity before we deployed, it would have been very beneficial,” he said. “It’s really given my soldiers a chance to see how we work together with a combat support hospital and reservists.”
Abbasi also praised the 48th CSH.
“When you deploy, you’re dependent on your host unit for things you take for granted — air conditioning, generators, those type things,” he said. “The staff of the 48th CSH has been very supportive and helped make our exercise a success.”