Focused on the future, with a clear vision

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Collin Schmidt
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Since I can remember, I have always struggled with my sight. My vision was horrible since birth and had affected every aspect of my childhood growing up. My grades in school were terrible, participating in sports was a challenge and even every-day ordinary activities were frustrating.

For the longest time, I thought this was normal and didn't even realize I had a problem.

As a child, it seemed no one else knew what to do with me either. My parents would try everything to help me do better in school, but to no avail. My coach would explain plays in detail, but my hands would still fail to catch the football and my interest in things most children loved was just not there.

It seemed this was just the way things were. "Everyone must be this way but maybe they are just better at doing these things than me," I thought.

Luckily, this was not the case. The day we realized what was wrong was the day my life changed forever.

I remember the moment like it was yesterday. My whole family was together. We were driving back from vacation and my father always liked to take the scenic routes back home. They call Wisconsin the land of 15,000 lakes, and for good reason. Almost everywhere you go there will be a lake nearby, not to mention that the whole East border is comprised of Lake Michigan.

As we drove over hill after hill, my mother would comment on the beauty of the countryside. To me, everything just seemed like a green blur as the trees rushed past the window at 65 miles-an-hour.

We were nearing the end of our journey and the sun was just starting to set, making the horizon blur with the earth as the twilight hours set in.

As we crested yet another hill, my mother shouted "look at that." What she saw was an amazingly vivid reflection of the setting sun on Lake Michigan. For her, and everyone else in the car, the sky was painted with streaks of red, yellow and orange, and a thousand other nuances of color. The lake, which looked like the ocean due to its size, was creating a perfect reflection that played tricks on the mind because of its flawlessness.

I swung my head around the driver's seat to see what everyone was gazing at and as I struggled to make out anything, I kept asking "what is it, what is it?" I couldn't even tell there was a gigantic lake right in front of us.

My brothers, the loving brothers they are, would laugh hysterically as I kept asking what the hell everyone was looking at. Fists would have flown had my father not intervened.

It was then that I heard my mother take a gasp of air and say to my father, "It's his eyes. We need to get his eyes checked."

That was the turning point.

Only now as I look back on my childhood do I realize the significance of what I struggled with. Not being able to see can have a drastic impact on every aspect of what a person does. For me, it was the barrier the prevented me from living my life to the fullest, and even learning at the same pace as others.

Since that realization, I had been blessed with the ability to have a clear vision, with the help of countless pairs of glasses and even more sets of contacts. Everything changed for the better, but I still struggled with the problems that face everyone who has to rely on an external instrument to correct their sight.

I was extremely grateful to finally have the eyesight that was never there previously, but I still struggled with keeping it.

Fast-forward 12 years and I'm in the Air Force, as a photojournalist nonetheless. Probably one of the top career fields where clear vision and "having a good eye" is a must.

It was at this point that I knew I needed complete freedom of sight, and laser eye surgery was the key.

Surprisingly enough, the process was simple. Waiting to complete everything took time but the steps required to have my vision corrected forever were easy to take.

It started with a visit to my optometrist. At the visit, I told the doctor that I was interested in having laser eye surgery and asked what the process would be to have it done.

I was told that my eyesight needed to be stable for at least a year, which required me to complete an eye exam a year later. If my eyes hadn't changed drastically, I would be able to have the procedure.

One year later I'm in the same chair, hoping that everything was good-to-go. Sure enough, after a series of tests, I was ready.

I got the OK to set up an appointment with a surgery center of my choosing. In the Air Force, Airmen can choose which center they would like to have the procedure done at.

I chose to have mine done at Travis Air Force Base, California.

Of the four main techniques, photorefractive keratectomy ended up being the best suit for my eyes. I was a little worried at first because your eyes are kind of important, and it's not like you can just swap them out for another pair.

Even with the uncertainties, it was the chance of a lifetime to have the procedure paid for in full and be able to receive complete freedom of sight.

The procedure itself was quicker than I could believe. Fifteen minutes and I was done. There was no pain and having gone through a significant surgery in the past, the intensity of the entire process was minimal.

For the second time, my life changed drastically.

My eyesight is still going through the stages of recovery, but is the best it has ever been without the help of glasses or contacts.

Being able to do the things I love without the need to constantly rely on something or someone is amazing.

The road to this point has had many ups and downs, but the decision to have my vision corrected is one I will never regret. Thanks to the Air Force, I was given an opportunity to change my life once again for the better, and become the best person and Airman I can possibly be.

For more information on laser eye surgery, contact the optometry clinic at (406) 731-4633 or go online to