Reserve optometrist commands squadron, senior leader in world's largest eye care company

  • Published
  • By By Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs
Sometimes life takes a person in an entirely different direction, but the journey can be a positive one.

Col. Carl Spear, commander, 403rd Aeromedical Staging Squadron that provides home station medical readiness for 1,500 403rd Wing reservists and the wartime tasking to establish medical triage and staging anywhere in the world, originally wanted to teach high school biology and chemistry and coach basketball.

He ended up as an optometrist and a senior leader in one of the world’s largest eye care companies.

“I was taking all those courses with the pre-medical and dental students; and none of it appealed to me,” said Spear, who enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in October 1983, was accepted into the Army ROTC program and attended college at Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky. “I was in Army ROTC at that time, and I wanted to fly helicopters but failed the vision test. I didn’t have the eyes to be a pilot. At about that same time, I read a USA Today article listing the top 25 professions and optometry was on the list.”

He earned his commission in 1986 and his doctorate of optometry in 1991. He spent several years in the Army Reserve and after a break in service, joined the Air Force Reserve in 2008.

Spear, an optometrist with over 20 years of experience, is also the senior vice president of Eye Care North America for Luxottica, an Italian eyewear company based in Milan. The company, the world’s largest in the eye care industry valued at $46 billion, designs, manufactures and distributes fashion, sports and performance eyewear to 150 countries and 9,000 retail stores. He is responsible for optometrists in the 5,000 U.S. based stores, he said.

“My role is to manage everything that has to do with the doctors in our locations, which includes recruiting, retention, training programs, analytics, and education programs,” said Spear.

Two such education programs the company supports include Think About Your Eyes and One Sight. Think About Your Eyes promotes awareness of the importance of scheduling annual eye exams. One Sight is a non-profit organization that partners with governments and health organizations to provide vision care to people globally. The program has provided eye care to 9 million people in 41 countries, according to the organization website.

Spear, who lives in Pensacola, Florida, and commutes between company headquarters in Manhattan, New York, and Cincinnati, Ohio, and his U.S. Air Force Reserve duties in Biloxi, Mississippi, said it can be a challenge to balance it all, but his company is very supportive of the military.

“This is in my blood,” said the colonel who deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and whose father served 36 years in the Army and retired as division command sergeant major.

Spear’s love of the military is what brought him back after separating from the Army Reserve, he said. The optometrist owned several eye clinics in the Pensacola, Florida, area and had several patients who were members of the 919th Special Operations Wing, Duke Field, Florida. The unit members talked about their jobs and the missions, which prompted his interest in joining the unit. He transferred to the Air Force Reserve in 2008, serving in the 919th Medical Squadron at Duke Field, Florida.

“I didn’t really have an intention to take command, but I got pinged to be the squadron commander there and then got promoted,” said Spear who became the 919th SOMDS commander in January 2015 and then assumed command at the 403rd ASTS in February 2018.

Although Spear’s career path changed from his original goal of becoming a high school teacher, he’s still impacting lives in a positive way.

“It’s rewarding helping people, and there were so many things this career has made possible,” said Spear.