Good eyesight is obviously important for Air Force pilots and other personnel. But even if you need prescription eyeglasses to see, you can still be accepted into the Air Force, as long as you meet a few basic requirements.
However, don't plan to wear contact lenses. The Air Force doesn't allow them during basic training and discourages their use in the field.
Here's what to know about eyeglasses and the Air Force.
Air Force Vision Requirements
When you arrive at Air Force Basic Military Training as a recruit, you undergo a complete eye examination. This is different and more involved than the eye examination you undergo at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), which is to determine if you meet the basic vision requirements to join the military.
The eye examination at Air Force basic training is to determine whether you need glasses, and—if you do—to order government-issue glasses and eyeglass inserts for a gas mask.
Air Force Basic Training Glasses
You cannot wear contact lenses during basic training. You also cannot wear your civilian glasses, once you have received your official government-issue glasses.
In the past, government-issue glasses had thick, hard plastic frames and lenses which were difficult to break. However, the Air Force realized that a majority of recruits were throwing these glasses away after basic training because they were uncomfortable and unappealing-looking. The Air Force now offers a variety of eyeglass frame choices.
Once you receive your government-issue glasses (a few days after your eye examination), they are the only glasses you are allowed to wear while at basic training. If you don't really need glasses to see, you won't be required to wear them.
Why Can't I Wear Contact Lenses in the Air Force?
One serious concern the Air Force has about contact lenses is exposure to tear gas. Gases can badly damage contact lenses and cause them to deteriorate, which could lead to long-term eye damage over time.
Also, the Air Force feels that the risk of blowing sand and fine dust particles causing a soldier with contact lenses to have "something in their eye" will potentially hold up a unit, which has real-world implications on the battlefield.
Finally, contact lenses require a hygienic environment for their care, and conditions in the field may not lend themselves to adequate care. This can lead to abrasions and infections, as it would in a civilian who did not regularly clean or change his contact lenses.
Eyeglasses After Air Force Basic Training
After graduating from basic training, you are allowed to wear your civilian glasses again, as long as they conform to military dress and appearance regulations. Generally, that means the color must be conservative, the frames have no designs or decorations, and the lenses are not tinted when indoors (or outdoors when in military formation).
Even after basic training, you may not wear glasses around your neck, on a lanyard, or on top of your head while in uniform, per Air Force requirements.
But when you are in civilian clothes, you can wear whatever glasses you choose.