Army is replacing 'birth control glasses' with more stylish fare

2012-02-12T09:00:00Z 2012-03-08T20:13:54Z Army is replacing 'birth control glasses' with more stylish fareBY PHILLIP O'CONNOR • poconnor@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8321 stltoday.com

For a generation of Army recruits with poor vision, so-called "birth control glasses" have been an indignity of basic training, the joke being it was impossible to appear attractive while wearing the heavy-framed, thick-lensed, standard-issue eyewear.

But as soon as this week, recruits at Fort Leonard Wood will be sporting sleeker spectacles.

The new glasses, technically called 5As, are lighter and thinner than the old model and have been described as having a Buddy Holly-type look.

Sgt. Brant Fechter, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the optometry clinic at Fort Leonard Wood's reception battalion, said the new glasses aren't much different from those popular in the civilian world.

"I think it's a big indicator these glasses are going to be a big hit with trainees," Fechter said.

And that's part of the reason for the change. By modernizing the look, the military hopes recruits will wear the glasses more often.

The new black-framed glasses will be "on their face instead of in their rucksack,'' Fechter said.

For decades, along with their haircuts and new uniforms, basic training recruits who needed them were issued the heavy, brown-framed glasses known technically as S9s but more often referred to as "BCGs."

"It's certainly part of the assimilation from civilian to soldier," said fort spokesman Jeff Maddy. "Part of that is we all wear the same uniform."

Once soldiers complete their initial training, they are free to choose other eyewear.

The Missouri National Guard is marking the end of the "BCG" era by hosting a contest on its Facebook page asking people to post a photo wearing the old glasses.

Pvt. Jay Weidler, 40, of Crestwood, responded that it was bad enough that he had to go through basic training last year as an "old man."

"But then to go through basic as 'the dancing old man from Six Flags' just made it worse," he wrote, referring to the amusement park's popular pitchman.

But, he said, the glasses worked.

Ironically, as the military begins to phase out the old glasses, Fechter, for one, believes they will grow more popular and might already even be becoming a fashion statement. He said he recently saw rapper Jay-Z wearing similar glasses at an awards show.

"They're actually coming in style," he said.

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