Air National Guard Optometrists improve vision in Morocco

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Annie Edwards
  • Utah Air National Guard

U.S. Air National Guard optometrists and technicians are providing much needed optometry care to the local Moroccan community at the Military Medical Surgical Field Hospital in Tafraoute, Morocco, June 7-17 during African Lion 2021.

The optometry and ophthalmology department is one of the busiest sections at the field hospital. Working alongside two Moroccan ophthalmologists, the optometrists treat an average of 250 patients and distribute approximately 150 pairs of glasses each day.

“We perform eye exams, first checking the ocular surface for any abnormalities like growths on the cornea or cataracts. Then we check people’s vision to see if they need glasses,” said Maj. Kirk Drennan, an optometrist with the 151st Medical Group.

The Moroccan ophthalmologists perform cataract surgery at the field hospital and provide follow-up care.

The optometry team brought more than 2,000 pairs of glasses to Morocco. The majority of the eyewear inventory is made up of donated glasses, allowing for a wide range of prescriptions to distribute.

Drennan said that even though there are some conditions they are unable to treat at the field hospital and they may not have a patient’s exact prescription in the available glasses, they do their best to help improve vision for each patient.

At least two medical technicians, as well as two to three interpreters, assist the optometrists each day. Senior Airman Benjamin Cragun, a medical technician with the 151st Medical DET-1, had the opportunity to work in optometry for the first time during AL21.

“Knowing that we are providing something for these people that they can’t get otherwise or that is very difficult for them to get, for me, exemplifies what we do here in the Air Force,” said Cragun.

Drennan said the most rewarding part about his work in optometry is watching people put on their glasses and start to smile and point at the things that they might be seeing for the first time in years.

“I really love being able to help people out in this way, it has been desire of mine even before I went to optometry school.” said Drennan. “It’s neat to be able to help people who for the lack of glasses haven’t been able to function.”

African Lion 2021 is U.S. Africa Command’s largest, premier, joint, annual exercise hosted by Morocco, Tunisia, and Senegal, 7-18 June. More than 7,000 participants from nine nations and NATO train together with a focus on enhancing readiness for us and partner nation forces. AL21 is multi-domain, null-component, and multinational exercise, which employs a full array of mission capabilities with the goal to strengthen interoperability among participants.