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It’s spring — the birds are chirping and flowers blooming. Everywhere you look, people are out exercising, playing sports and, unfortunately, getting injured. April has been designated as Sports Eye Safety Month to remind us to use our eye protection whenever the potential for an eye injury exists — and not just during the duty day. That includes participating in sports and doing other activities around the home.

Everyone has a story about the misjudged fly ball or the finger in the eye during a basketball game. The stories go on and on and usually start with someone doing something stupid. This particular story begins there as well.

One day, upon arriving at the racquetball court, I realized I had forgotten my eye protection. The person I was playing was not that good and I had never been hit in the eye before, so I decided to play anyway. Shortly thereafter, I hit a lob and waited for the return, which seemed to take too long. Sure enough, as I turned around, the ball hit me square in the eye! I was, indeed, stupid.

The good news is I wasn’t hit very hard. I’m one of those fortunate people who get to end their story with, “I was lucky.” A racquetball to the eye can easily cause permanent damage, but I only had a sore eye for a few days. I also wised up and stopped playing immediately after I was hit.

While combat soldiering has currently replaced sports as the second-leading cause of eye injuries among Soldiers, only behind other types of occupational injuries, the impact from sports activities is still significant. The average eye injury results in 5.8 days lost from duty at an average cost of $16,540, according to the U.S. Army Public Health Command. In the U.S., more than 13 percent of eye injuries are sports related, with more than 40,000 occurring each year. Basketball, baseball, softball and racket sports are the leading causes of sports-related eye injuries. If you think about it, that means emergency rooms in this country treat a sports-related eye injury every 13 minutes. These injuries cost $175 to $200 million a year, according to the American Optometric Association. Fortunately, 90 percent of these injuries are preventable if people wear protective eyewear. However, conventional eyeglasses do not meet the requirements of protective eyewear and are expensive to replace when broken. Why risk your fashion statement to a softball making a bad bounce? The ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, is an organization that provides guidelines to govern the manufacture and ensure the highest quality of eye protection for specific sports and activities. Whenever possible, it’s strongly recommended you use ASTM-approved eye protection that is designed for your particular sport.

The Army also has a comprehensive and very effective program for preventing battlefield injuries — your Military Combat Eye Protection. Your MCEP meets the standards for most sports and, in some areas, it surpasses them. They meet the military ballistic eyewear standards, which are more stringent than those to stop a flying elbow while going up for a rebound. In fact, the only sports they are not approved for are racket sports and paintball, which have their own protective eyewear requirements. In most cases, you choose the ones you wear because they are comfortable and reasonably stylish, so take them to the court or field. Don’t leave them at work; use them at home and while playing whenever there is a potential risk and you do not have any ASTM-approved eyewear available.

You know the old saying — “You only get one set of eyes, so protect them?” Almost one-third of Soldiers returning from combat stated that their MCEPs had prevented them from getting an eye injury. Always remember that an eye injury occurring during a softball game can be just as devastating as one happening in theater. So, when in doubt, wear your protective eyewear in the field, at home and during sports. And don’t forget your children. Eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in children. For those age 11 to 14, most eye injuries occur while playing sports, with baseball the leading cause for those under 14 and basketball for those 15 to 24. If you teach them early, they will always remember.

Protective eyewear will not only keep you in the game, it will also keep your eyes ready for maintaining your quality of life. Do it for yourself and your Family. Remember — Preserve Your Sight to Fight!