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Picking eyewear for tactical or combat duty can be a daunting task. First, they cost money, more than the average pair of industrial safety glasses. Second, because of the numerous styles and models to select from, picking the wrong eyewear can be an expensive proposition when you have to buy a second pair because the first pair were wrong for the application.
However, once you understand your mission, environment and needs, it becomes much clearer. We will try to help with this process so you can make the correct selection the first time out. As a note, all of the recommendations below provide full ultraviolet ray protection, which is important if you spend significant amounts of time outdoors.
Where Will You Be Using Your Eyewear?
Middle East Combat
If you are military and you expect to be in the Middle East, on the ground in a combat environment, you absolutely not only need protection of ballistic polycarbonate lenses, you also need wind and dust protection. Any Middle East duty will eventually fall prey to dust storms, which are quite unbelievable in the Middle East, not unlike the occasional dust storm in the desert southwest of the U.S., but they occur in the Middle East far more frequently. This is particularly so during the time period starting around late February through early June, but they can occur periodically throughout the year. The blowing dust are very fine particles, almost talcum-powder-like that seeps into every nook and cranny of vehicles, buildings, and yes, your body.
It is highly recommended if you perform convoy duty, find yourself routinely in armor vehicles on patrol, or routinely kicking down doors, you need wind and dust protection for your eyes plus ballistic protection. Dust storms can come up at any moment, and what seems like a regular hot day in hell can turn into a blinding, limited visibility environment within moments. The only option of choice are gasketed goggles or sunglasses. Your goggles or sunglasses must have a gasket that seals most of the wind and dust out from around your eyes. Equally important, you need maximum protection from shrapnel from IED or RPG attacks.
The following are a partial list of eyewear that not only meet rigid military ballistic shrapnel protection standards, they also have gaskets, are vented to minimize fogging and depending on the model, may be convertible from gasketed to non-gasketed regular sunglasses. This list is not inclusive of all models available, but they do represent the most popular styles used by military personnel in the Middle East. They include both single lens gasketed combat goggle styles as well as gasketed combat sunglasses. Some sunglass models have automatic light-adjusting lenses that darken in the sun and lighten up in the shade, night or indoors. Others have interchangeable tinted and clear lenses.
Wiley X SG-1 Series Combat Goggles
Wiley X Spear Combat Goggles
Wiley X XL-1 Series Combat Sunglasses
Wiley X Nerve Combat Sunglasses
Wiley X Climate Control Series Combat Sunglasses
Prowler Combat Goggles
Wiley X Street Fighter Series Combat Sunglasses
For the most part the above models are somewhat pricey as far as eyewear goes. But understand that these models undergo rigorous product development and qualification to meet MIL PRF ballistic standards. Sometimes manufacturers will spend years in development spending millions of dollars for tooling, testing qualifications and re-tooling to meet the standards. Additionally, after production begins, they are tested routinely to ensure they continue meet military standards. These are certainly not designed like your average pair of sunglasses.
Middle East Combat Support/Support Duty and U.S. Tactical Duty
So as to not insult service members in the Middle East, we understand that anywhere in Afghanistan or Iraq is classified as a combat environment. But, let's face it, there are a number of jobs in combat zones that do not require kicking in doors and exposure to dusty environments. There are a large number of combat support and support functions in the Middle East that do not see combat as a daily routine. As such, spending money for gasketed combat eyewear is certainly not necessary, but full MIL PRF shrapnel protection is of the utmost need.
If you find yourself in an environment where wind and dust is just not an issue, there is another level of eyewear that is very popular not only in the Middle East but also for U.S. based military personnel and law enforcement in the U.S. They are single lens shield style wrap-around non-gasketed combat sunglasses. Personnel who would use this type of eyewear want, or in some cases absolutely need, maximum ballistic protection, but are not routinely exposed to dusty and windy environments. The following list of products are not a complete list of available products, but represent a broad cross-section of products that provide full MIL PRF protection from shrapnel caused by IED or RPGs. These products are also used extensively by combat personnel in the Middle East during the non-dust storm season. They provide full peripheral vision, are comfortable to wear for extended periods of time and most provide interchangeable lenses for day and night wear.
Body Specs Pistols Combat Sunglasses
Romer II Navy Seal Combat Sunglasses
Wiley X PT-1 Combat Sunglasses
Wiley X PT-3 Combat Sunglasses
Wiley X B-2 Combat Sunglasses
Wiley X Sabre Combat Sunglasses
Now the selection is wide open. You may need some level of wind or dust protection, but more importantly, you simply need protection from the bright sunlight. This is where you can save some bucks. More importantly, if you're back in the U.S., work in a non-combat environment in support functions in Kuwait or Qatar you need simple eye protection. If you are training in the U.S. preparing for Middle East deployment, you may not want to expose your expensive combat eyewear to damage. Having another pair of inexpensive eyewear to keep things like shell casings from hitting you in the eye, a lot of combat personnel keep a pair of U.S. duty/training sunglasses, or even off-duty sunglasses around for non-combat environments. If you are in the navy aboard ship, or in the Army running maritime logistical support, or live in the green zone providing support functions, you will find the items listed below very useful for your selection. The following list is not inclusive of what's available, because the list would be endless for the purposes of this article. But, these represent what appear to be the most popular selections. Most all are ANSI rated for high velocity impact protection and some have removable gaskets as well as interchangeable lenses. Others may have fixed non-interchangeable lenses, but the cost is so low buying a tinted and clear model for day and night wear is quite inexpensive. The prices overall are a fraction of what you would pay, but all provide protection with ballistic polycarbonate lenses. If you are around water, we highly recommend the polarized models for day wear, which greatly reduce blind spots on the water surface from reflected glare.
SDA ACU Digital (Army Pattern) Protective Sunglasses
Hercules Protective Sunglasses
Cobra Protective Sunglasses
Hero 24 Protective Sunglasses - Auto Light-Adjusting
"Impact" Protective Sunglasses
FR24 Protective Sunglasses - Auto Light-Adjusting
4319 Polarized Wrap, Black Frame w/Gasket
4329 Polarized Wrap, Tortoise Frame w/Gasket
Navigator Polarized Wrap w/Gasket
Blaze Polarized Wrap
All Star Goggle 2 Lens Kit
Spider 2 Air Filtering 2-Lens Goggle
There are many other options available, not only this list above. But these represent what appear to be the most popular selections.
Off Duty Eyewear
Hey, I don't like to wear my duty glasses while I'm off duty. What's the trend today?
The hottest sunglasses right now, if you haven't noticed, are aviator sunglasses. Yes, the traditional American design dating back to the late 1930s is in hot demand right now and growing by leaps and bounds. They were the hottest design during the Vietnam war and faded out from the sunglass scene in favor of wrap-arounds for the most part starting in the late 1980s, that is until now. But, you can't keep a good looking design down forever. And, during times of war, military designs, and especially aviators, become very popular.
The designs available today range from the original Ray Ban aviator design (egg-shaped) to the more modern, and current military aviator issue Randolphs. If you want ballistic protection, we recommend selecting a model with ballistic polycarbonate lenses. If you want tempered glass, we recommend American Optical or Randolph Aviators. But tempered glass lenses are not shatterproof or even shatter resistant. If they're hit hard enough, they will break, so make your selection carefully based on your intended use. If you really want the top of the line, certainly XPO Aviators represent some of the finest craftsmanship in glass lens aviator styles available in today's market.
So, are we kidding when we say aviators are the hottest selling sunglass design right now? Not one bit. Just take a look at what people are wearing on television and the movies. Hollywood stars, along with rockers are pushing the styles these days and you can't hardly find one wearing wrap-around sunglasses anymore. They have dropped off the face of the earth and anyone caught wearing them is considered... well, out of touch with the latest styles. And frankly, why shouldn't aviators be so popular? They look good on any facial structure as compared to wrap-arounds which frankly just look goofy on some people. But, you're hard pressed to find a person that doesn't look good in aviator sunglasses. The list below represent, for the most part, traditional designs used by military aviators over the past seventy years. There are a few that wrap slightly, giving them an updated look, but the vast majority of buyers are looking for traditional aviator styles.
Mirrored and Traditional Ballistic Polycarbonate Aviators
Polarized Polycarbonate Aviator Sunglasses
Randolph Military Issue Tempered Glass Lens Aviators
American Optical Tempered Glass Lens Aviators
XPO Polarized Tempered Glass Lens Aviators
CopperMax Tempered Glass Aviators
Regardless of your specific needs, todays modern eyewear offers outstanding eye protection and a ton of styles for every taste. Prices range from far less than $20 for very good, well engineered eyewear, upwards to well over $100 for top-of-the-line protective combat sunglasses and goggles.
A Final Note About Auto Light Adjusting Lenses
A number of people we have corresponded with in the Middle East tell us their new light-adjusting lenses don't darken when they go into the sun. This is a problem caused by the heat in the Middle East. High temperatures sometimes tend to prevent the darkening feature from activating on a new pair of sunglasses. There is a simple trick to get them to work if you find yours will not darken.
Place them in a refrigerator, or better yet a freezer if it's available for a couple hours or longer. If that's not available, remove the gasket, if it's removable, and place the whole thing in a bucket of cold ice water. Finding ice is usually not a problem in the Middle East. The military is pretty good about making sure ice is around. Remove them after a few hours and take them into direct sunlight. They will not darken if placed behind a window due to the ultraviolet ray blocking features of glass, so take them directly into the sun. They should start to darken when exposed to the direct sunlight. You may have to repeat this process two or three times to kick start them. Once you get them to darken to some degree, they will continue to darken more over time with regular use. You won't have to freeze them daily to use them, this process is generally limited to one or two times in the beginning, then they should work normally. This is generally not a problem when temperatures are below 85 to 90 degrees F.
If you purchase a pair while in the states you might want to activate them before you leave by exposing them to direct sunlight. Once they darken you shouldn't have a problem when you arrive in the Middle East. This same kind of problem can also occur in the summer of the southern and western states of the U.S.
Also remember, for light-adjusting lenses to darken, they need to be exposed to direct sunlight. If you are inside a vehicle, light-adjusting lenses do not get a full exposure to ultraviolet rays, which activates the darkening feature, so they tend to lighten up while in a vehicle, and to some degree in heavily shaded areas. So, if you want a dark tint while driving, we recommend permanently tinted sunglasses. If you prefer a light tint while in the shade or driving a vehicle, light-adjusting lenses will work perfectly for your needs. If you spend a lot of time in direct sunlight, or routinely move from outdoor to indoor environments, light adjusting lenses are an excellent choice.