Soldiers' options for Army-approved eye pro just expanded.

The Authorized Protective Eyewear List, released once every year or two by Program Executive Office Soldier, now has 16 spectacles and 15 goggles. That's more than double the previous list of nine spectacles and six goggles, granting more ways to comply with an Army directive to only use APEL-labeled eyewear by 2016.

Of the current options, 10 goggles and six spectacles are Universal Prescription Lens Compatible, with those models clearly noted as such on PEO Soldier's website and APEL poster. UPLC lenses offer rims that hold prescription lenses in the protective eyewear.

Maj. Brent Odom, assistant project manager of soldier protective eyewear for PEO Soldier, attributed the list's expansion to the fact that "competition has ramped up." He said new options will help soldiers find a good fit.

"Soldiers are always interested in eyewear, for looks and for what they do to provide protection. And generally having choice is good," Odom told Army Times.

"It's substantial fragmentary protection," Odom said of what the standard requires, which hasn't changed from the last round of testing. "You can get fragments from debris, rocks, stuff getting spit up from a vehicle, or from a blast."

Starting in January, 2016, the APEL mark of approval will offer more than peace of mind: it will be required. In 2011 the Army announced the requirement, but delayed its effective date to allow wear-out of previously issued eye wear.

PEO Soldier officials recommend double-check before buying. While some brands sell items labeled as safety glasses or goggles, only APEL products have been tested by the Army and shown to provide the level of protection it requires.

Aside from the tests that produce a new list once every one or two years, PEO Soldier also pulls samples of each brand once every six months to ensure they continue to meet standards as they age. They also audit each vendor annually to ensure production standards don't drop off, Odom said.

Vendors can update models with minor changes and keep the newer editions APEL-qualified if PEO Soldier signs off on proposed changes.

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