NEWS | Aug. 14, 2018

Tropic Care Maui County 2018: Spotlight on Optical Fabrication

By Staff Sgt. Kevin Schulze Indiana Air National Guard

PFC ANTHONY T. KAHOOHANOHANO ARMORY, Hawaii -- The echo of music bounces across the basketball court with the continuous hum of machines following steadily behind it as U.S. Army soldiers with the 166th Medical detachment fabricate eyeglasses here near Kihei, Hi.

The soldiers are working side-by-side with Navy sailors and Air Force Airmen to construct eyeglasses for patients visiting the Tropic Care Maui County 2018 optometry clinics at Central Maui, Kihei, Lahaina, Hana, Molokai, and Lanai. Among them is U.S. Army Sgt. Jorge Laguna, an Optical Laboratory Specialist and the Detachment Sergeant for the 166th medical detachment.

Before joining the Army, Laguna was a college student. But with his grandfather and father both serving in the Army, Laguna has always had his mind on joining. After a finishing a few years of college, Laguna decided to enlist.

“The Army has been something I’ve always been interested in,” said Laguna. “One day I just decided to go to a recruiting station and get some information.”

But his journey didn’t start right away. Laguna had done some research and was looking for a specific military career field.

“Optical Fabrication was a job that caught my attention because I knew that if, for whatever reason, I were to finish my enlistment and go to find a civilian job I was going to be able to find a good job,” said Laguna.

His desire for an optical fabrication position required Sgt. Laguna to wait for an open position to become available. A wait that lasted over eight months.

The recruiter eventually gave up but soon a position became available and the wait was over, said Laguna.

After his eight month waiting period and Basic Combat Training, Sgt. Laguna was sent to an intense optometry fabrication school.

It was a joint service training, primarily Army and Navy, that compiled approximately two to two and a half years of training into a six month curriculum with hands on modules making it very easy to understand and comprehend the science behind how eyeglasses work, said Laguna.

After a year and a half, Sgt. Laguna was finally ready to begin fabricating glasses. And the wait was well worth it.

“It’s been rewarding doing this job,” said Laguna. “When you are giving a pair of glasses to somebody who hasn’t been able to see for years and seeing their face as they smile and they can finally see. It’s a good thing.”

But optical fabrication is not without its challenges. And as a detached unit, the 166th must perform their duties without being in the office with the doctors and the prescriptions.

The most challenging part about being a separated unit is understanding the doctors handwriting for the prescription and making sure everybody is on the same page. But since we’re using all electronic systems here at Tropic Care its not too confusing, said Laguna.

Now, Laguna is 8 and a half years into his Army career and stationed at Joint base Lewis-Mcchord near DuPont Wash. The mission of the 166th medical detachment often brings them on training missions such as Tropic Care Maui County 2018 due to their unique capabilities and training.

“At home station we focus more on soldier readiness and equipment maintenance,” said Laguna “But this is what we do. We are a deployable, small unit that goes to any place in the world to provide eye-care and optical fabrication.”

Even after a long start, Sgt. Laguna reflects positively on his time in the Army and all the benefits he has received.

“The Army has been good to me. I can’t complain,” said Laguna “I’ve learned so many skills as a professional and as a person. Things that are going to help me when I leave the Army… It gives you tools that you wouldn’t learn, or would be difficult to get, otherwise.”

As part of Tropic Care Maui County 2018, Sgt. Laguna and his detachment will be here from Aug. 11-19 fabricating eyeglasses for all six clinic sites. The whirring of their machines and the bass from their music are both signs of the 166th medical detachment’s, and their joint service coworker’s, steady and persistent work.