CAMP TONDIBIAH, Niger — As a group of Nigerien soldiers prepare for their first day of training with the Unites States Marine Corps Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative Mobile Training Team, an Air Force Reservist did his part in preparing the Nigeriens, by performing eye exams on the entire company.
Capt. Steven Tittl, an optometrist with the 439th Aerospace Medical Squadron, Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass., examined 130 soldiers while fitting 63 for glasses on the eve of their first day of counter terrorism training with the Marines.
The captain is part of a 12-man Air Force Reserve Command medical team that is in Niger performing a humanitarian mission alongside the Marines, who are training the Nigeriens on counter terrorism.
"The Defense Attaché, Lt. Col. Duke Ellington (he was the acting DATT when this mission was planned) was very adamant about getting the company visually ready before we got them out on the range," said Maj. Paul Baker, Marine Forces Europe, officer in charge for TSCTI. "I am extremely pleased with the company and how they look and I know with the addition of 63 pairs of glasses they'll be that much more lethal on the range in the next few weeks."
For Captain Tittl, this was his first humanitarian mission he's performed in the military; he did two missions in Central America when he was a student. Being able to treat an allied military on day one was quite a thrill for the captain.
"Having an opportunity to improve the Nigerien military company was a rewarding experience, an opportunity of a lifetime." Captain Tittl said. "I was honored to be selected to come on this trip. It was a great chance for optometry to serve the military on this humanitarian mission."
During Captain Tittl's eye examinations he encountered cataracts, dry eyes, corneal erosions, conjunctivitis and visual corrections, mostly far-sighted individuals.
"Their general ocular needs were met with the glasses and medicines we had on hand," Capt. Tittl said. "Overall the company's visual health was marginal considering their harsh environment."
The Nigerien company will benefit greatly from the services Captain Tittl gave to them, especially when they begin training with firearms in the next few weeks.
"The eye glasses that we distributed should improve their target skill and accuracy," Captain Tittl said.
"Today we'll go to the range and train," said Sergeant Chef Abou Bakar Moussa Kane, a Nigerien soldier who was given a pair of glasses and spoke in broken English. "The glasses are very well. We can see better for training and shooting."
The glasses were donated by the Wisconsin Lion's Club, as well as Luxottica and Costco Corporations. Alcon Pharmaceutical also donated $4,000 worth of medication to Captain Tittl for this mission.
"For my first day of work, it was very fulfilling to be able to improve the lives of these soldiers," he said. "I'm excited to continue the next step of this mission, by treating the visual needs of the local population."