Gas Mask or Eyeglasses? Reporters Can’t Have Both

By: Ari Berman

Reporters slated for “embedded” war coverage in Iraq who wear eyeglasses (probably a fair number of the total) have to surmount one obstacle others don’t have to deal with. The basic M40 General Purpose Mask designed to protect them from chemical and gas attacks apparently fits so snugly they have to remove their glasses before they strap them on.

So how, then, can they see what’s coming to get them, or an escape route? They must order prescription optical inserts to be mounted in the masks. But if you need glasses only for reading, forget it — these inserts are for “distance” vision.

E&P has obtained a document issued to embedded reporters instructing them on how to order the inserts. Reporters are to send their prescriptions to the Naval Ophthalmic Support & Training Activity (NOSTRA), based at the Naval Weapons Station in Yorktown, Va. “We’re the LensCrafters of the armed forces,” boasts NOSTRA public affairs officer Jim Kemp.

If necessary, according to the document sent to the embedded scribes, “orders will be delivered to destination via FedEx” (at the recipient’s expense), so we now know that FedEx delivers to Kuwait. But this will happen only after the order is “inspected to ensure it exceeds standards for quality. … Included will be instructions for assembly.”

Kemp is organizing a media tour at NOSTRA for journalists that want to cover the manufacturing process of the optical insert. There’s been no interest in that so far, although many journalists have called Kemp inquiring about their orders.

In related news, journalists have apparently not developed a close rapport with their gas masks. A Thursday story in The Washington Post reported that during a chemical weapons scare at Camp Ripper, Kuwait this week, “reporters snapped pictures of the masked-up Marines and wondered what to do. … About two-thirds of the journalists had brought gas masks,” but they were slow to don them.

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