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 stakeholders 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 had 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.
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. 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. As it has throughout its history, NOSTRA continues to lead the way in "Providing the Armed Forces with the Sight to Fight!"