History of the Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity
Adequate vision has always been recognized as an essential requirement for military service. The stringent physical standards which existed prior to World War II precluded the enlistment or commissioning of candidates with reduced visual acuity. Personnel who required prescription eyewear were obligated to obtain it at their expense. The rapid mobilization which followed the bombing on Pearl Harbor necessitated the lowering of visual standards in order to man the expanding fleets and shore establishment.
Lacking an ophthalmic program, the Navy entered into contractual agreements to satisfy the critical need for prescription eyewear. When the civilian laboratories were unable to meet the demand, a military ophthalmic program was established by the Navy Appropriation Act of 1942 which authorized funds for the issuance of prescription eyewear to Navy and Marine Corps personnel serving abroad. Base optical units with the capability of fabricating a limited range of prescriptions were established and truck-mounted optical units stocked with pre-finished eyewear by the addition of lens edging equipment; however, the lack of lens surfacing capabilities limited their effectiveness.
A program to provide prescription eyewear for all Navy personnel was introduced in 1945. Sixty-five spectacle dispensing units were established within the United States to contract with civilian laboratories. A five-week program at the U.S. Naval Medical Supply Depot, Brooklyn, New York trained spectacle dispensers to staff these units. Rapid demobilization following the end of World War II resulted in an acute shortage of trained personnel. This necessitated the establishment of an Optical School at the U.S. Naval Medical Supply Depot, Brooklyn, New York in June 1945 with courses for opticians and dispensers. Contract procurement of prescription eyewear was discontinued in 1945 and the program remained unaltered during the post war phase until 1 July 1949 when Navy ophthalmic laboratories with surfacing capabilities were established at the Navy Medical Supply Depot, Brooklyn, New York and the Navy Supply Center, Oakland, California. Four continental ophthalmic service units were modernized. Spectacle dispensing units were designated at thirty-five stateside Navy Medical Treatment Facilities.
The Optical School was relocated to the Naval Medical School, National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, and redesignated the Optometric Fabrication School. The Brooklyn laboratory was moved to the Naval Supply Center, Edgewater, New Jersey, in 1950 where it remained until 1954 when it was redesignated the Naval Ophthalmic Lens Laboratory and relocated to the Naval Supply Center, Cheatham Annex, Williamsburg, Virginia. The Naval Ophthalmic Lens Laboratory, Oakland, California, was disestablished on 1 July 1958.
Expansion of ophthalmic support services coupled with new specialty prescription eyewear programs significantly increased demand and necessitated several additions to the Cheatham Annex facility. This change in mission resulted in the activity being redesignated as the Naval Ophthalmic Support Activity on 1 July 1964.
Relocation of the training program from Bethesda to Williamsburg was approved by the Surgeon General and the activity was granted command status as the Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity on 6 May 1968. To maintain operational commitments and comply with new Food and Drug and Administration regulations, the command initiated actions which resulted in the authorization of Urgent Minor Construction funding to replace the old complex and relocate the activity to the Naval Weapons Station, Yorktown. Following extensive planning, ground was broken in February 1971 and a new 10,500 square foot laboratory was dedicated on 12 January 1972. A second phase of military construction added 15,000 square feet in administrative offices, and environmentally controlled warehouse and academic spaces for the Optician Technician School enabling the command to complete its relocation in May 1974.
Department of Defense realignment of operational responsibilities created a Tri-Service Ophthalmic Services Program on 1 October 1978. Key elements in this regionalized approach to the worldwide delivery of ophthalmic support services, were the Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity, the Fitzsimmons Optical Fabrication Laboratory in Aurora, CO and twelve (12) regional single vision activities.
Historically, NOSTRA has provided approximately 30,000 pair per month of all types of prescription eyewear for active duty of the uniformed services, and for other authorized personnel as prescribed by Title 10, U.S. Code and current directives. During Operation Shield/Storm, NOSTRA met unprecedented demands for production. From August 1990 through March 1992, the nation’s rapid mobilization and deployment resulted in an 87.9% increase in spectacle demands. During this period, 431,077 pair of glasses were fabricated, of which 185,699 were operational immediate requests that were made and shipped in less than 48 hours. This high productivity was accomplished by teamwork and working twelve hour days, six days per week. Another milestone was the production record for the month of January 1991 when 75,122 jobs were fabricated and shipped, the highest total in NOSTRA history. The month of December 1990 was also impressive with production of 72,808 spectacles, the second highest monthly total. During this period of unprecedented demands, the laboratory also completed a move into a new 16,000 square foot addition to the building which had been under construction since 1989.
The Navy’s Tri-Service Optician School, also located at NOSTRA, consists of an intensive six month course of instruction with successful students certifying as opticians. The program is recognized by the National Academy of Opticianry and students receive full credit toward an associate degree within the Virginia Community College System. In 1991, the National Optician’s Accreditation Association conferred full accreditation for both the Laboratory Technician and the Dispensing /technician programs, the only optician school in the nation to have both programs fully accredited. Beginning in November 1995, all Department of Defense training for opticians was consolidated at NOSTRA, with U.S. Army students and instructors joining the staff.
In October 1996, NOSTRA’s mission was expanded again. With the close of the Army Optical Fabrication Laboratory in Aurora, CO, NOSTRA was assigned the task of providing multifocal eyewear to DoD personnel worldwide. With this expansion, NOSTRA became a joint production lab with 27 Army opticians augmenting the Navy optician production staff.
During 1997, NOSTRA instituted the Frame of Choice Program for the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Public Health Service. This program offered a variety of frames in addition to the original S-9 frame.
In October 1999, NOSTRA was designated as the Executive Agent for Department of Defense Optical Fabrication charged with fiscal oversight of all DOD optical fabrication labs, worldwide.
In February 2000, NOSTRA spearheaded the implementation of the Frame of Choice Program for the Army and Air Force.
Recognized as a leader in ophthalmic production ergonomics, NOSTRA implemented several ergonomic improvements throughout the Command. Dedicated in June 2000, these improvements make NOSTRA a safer, more efficient and comfortable workplace.
With the goal in mind of laying a foundation in place for improving the quality of our product at NOSTRA, in December of 1999, we embarked on the journey of achieving International Standards Organization (ISO) certification.
In August of 2000 we achieved our certification by putting in place a Quality System that met the strict guidelines that ISO required.
On September 11, 2001 the terrorist attacks on the United States brought about the establishment of a multi-national “War on Terrorism” starting with military action against Afghanistan in November that same year. This mobilization of U.S. forces produced a 25 percent increase in production for this command over the following three to four months, with output consistently averaging around 40,000 per month.
In March of 2004 NOSTRA provided optical and medical support when the Medical Expeditionary Facility, Portsmouth, Virginia deployed to Camp Doha, Kuwait. A field optical lab with bifocal capabilities using the Opticast system was set up and optical devices were fabricated for members of our armed forces in theater in Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti and deployed U. S. Navy ships. NOSTRA provided onsite personnel contingency support to this region until 2008. In August the Army selects the UVEX spectacle insert and Marine Corps selects the ESS ICE spectacle and ESS NVG Goggle as their primary combat eye protection. In November fabrication of the inserts had begun and by years end we had fabricated over 21,500 of these devices. Also in November, the 1st annual Optical Fabrication
Enterprise (OFE) meeting was held in conjunction with the Armed Forces Optometric Society to discuss and implement a strategic planning process to improve business practices of the DOD optical fabrication resources. The OFE is comprised of representatives from the nine Army and 18 Navy labs. The OFE is managed by Navy Surgeon General with NOSTRA’s Commanding Officer designated as the OFE Program Executor.
In February of 2005, the surface department implemented a cut to polish process on their five new generators that allowed them to discontinue the fining process, cutting out a very time consuming step. In April tool towers were installed, and the automated lap tool picking system was implemented. ARC contract personnel who are people with intellectual and developmental disabilities were then retrained to work in lens production vice hand selecting tools for optical orders.
NOSTRA’s mission was again expanded in March, 2006. We were called upon to provide optical and medical support to the Innovation Readiness Team (IRT) program under the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. This joint service humanitarian mission and exercise provided medical care from a cadre of military medical professions to underserved residents of over 13 remote Alaskan villages. As part of the Optometry Team, we transported and set up our Mobile Optical Service Unit (MOSU) on site and screened over 750 patients. The eyeglasses were manufactured and fitted to the patient on the same day. Operation Artic Care has continued to grow and has become one of the largest IRT missions. NOSTRA’s involvement in providing assistance to humanitarian missions here in the United States as well as worldwide has impacted thousands; providing them with vision care and improving their quality of life. In 2006 NOSTRA sent various personnel to Lean Six Sigma training to become White and Green Belt certified. Two existing Black Belts then utilized the trained personnel to facilitate Lean projects within the production lab in order to reduce waste and stream line production processes. These initiatives lead to an increase in production and also realigned the finish department into three modules plus added a surface finish module in order to expedite fabrication of surfaced optical devices.
In January 2007, Marine Corps Headquarters announced that all Military Combat Eye Protection (MCEP) for the Marine Corps would be made using polycarbonate lenses. Furthermore, during 2007 NOSTRA supported several IRT humanitarian missions; USNS Comfort with Continuing Promise and USNS Mercy with Pacific Partnership by providing pre-fabricated eyeglasses for the optometry team onboard for their patients in third world countries. Other IRT missions and exercises we have supported over the years have included Tropic Care-Hawaii, U.S. AFRICOM, Operation Bulldog, and Alabama Black Belt. In May 2007 the Bethesda MD Detachment was relocated to Marine Corps Base Quantico VA. This move was to align NOSTRA with the largest “Readiness” customer serviced by the Bethesda Detachment. The Camp Lejeune NC Detachment was relocated to another building on the base that was larger and afforded them the opportunity to expand their equipment capabilities and therefore increase production by between 500-1,000 more spectacles per month. In June, a new standard of excellence was set; NOSTRA selected its 1st civilian employee to attend the Tri-Service Optician School.
During 2008, there were changes to the Authorized Protective Eyewear List approved by the Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier, Fort Belvoir, VA. After this change the demand for combat eye protection inserts and devices increased dramatically. Additionally, with an increasing number of service members in deployed locations and limited optometry assets in the theatre, the G-Eyes (Government Eyewear System) was brought online. Authorized personnel could now order replacement glasses, gas mask inserts and MCEP prescription lens carriers through the G-Eyes website and have their completed eyewear shipped directly to their deployed unit. During 2008, a complete finishing lab was installed in Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Major facility development and improvements were completed in 2008 through 2010. NOSTRA implemented an Environmental Management System to track and develop goals to reduce the environmental impact from command operations. Major building projects included; renovation of the finishing department, new ceilings and lighting, resurfacing of the floors in the production area, painting, new electrical and cabling, and renovations to MID and production office areas. The NOSTRA off-site warehouse was relocated.
In November of 2010 the surfacing department completed major renovations and reconfiguration of the equipment layout for the best job flow process and practices. Improvements were made to the staff lounge, staff bathrooms, the Tri-Service Opticianry School (TOPS) classroom / laboratory as well as the PA system upgrade.
Effective in January of 2012, the brown standard issue MS9 and FS9 frames were discontinued and replaced by the new black unisex 5A frame for active duty and reserve personnel. This was the first change for standard issue frames since 1990. In December 2012 a project to upgrade our waste treatment processing system was completed.
NOSTRA’s federal employee work force was affected by government sequestration for six weeks from July 8 – 16, 2013 and the work week was reduced to 32 hours. At the beginning of the fiscal year, we were furloughed from October 1 – 4, 2013. Yet, in Fiscal Year 2013, NOSTRA produced over 603,000 pairs of military eyewear, representing 35 percent of the OFE's over 1.7 million pairs fabricated, and TOPS graduated 94 Sailors and Soldiers. As it has throughout its history, NOSTRA continues to lead the way in "Providing the Armed Forces with the Sight to Fight!"
In May 2014, a Memorandum of Agreement signed by the Surgeons General of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and approved by the Director, Defense Health Agency, reaffirmed MHS OFE Program mission, and today, NOSTRA continues its longstanding role as DOD's largest and leading optical fabrication laboratory.
In March 2015, NOSTRA started fabricating a new standard issue frame specifically designed for multifocal wearers. The 5AM frame is similar in appearance to the 5A but it has a deeper vertical measurement to better accommodate bifocal and trifocal wearers.