Joining the infantry and serving your country is an honorable goal for many young people. However, meeting the medical requirements can be a challenge, especially for those who are color blind. In this article, we’ll explore the policies around color vision and the infantry, what jobs may still be open to those with color deficiencies, and tips for overcoming obstacles during the enlistment process.
The infantry is the main land combat force in most militaries around the world. Serving as an infantryman means being on the frontlines, engaging directly in battle and operations. It’s an intense, physically demanding, and dangerous role. That’s why infantry positions have strict medical requirements and standards. Vision is one of the key senses that must be in peak condition. The ability to distinguish colors, especially the color red, is considered essential for service in the infantry. However, mild to moderate color vision deficiencies do not always disqualify candidates if they can distinguish certain colors adequately. Waivers may also be possible depending on the severity and type of color blindness. With proper testing, counseling, and consideration of individual capabilities, those with color vision impairments may still be able to safely and effectively serve their country as infantrymen.
Why Color Vision is Important in the Infantry
Normal color vision is considered vital for infantry roles for several key reasons:
- Identifying friendly forces and enemy combatants – In combat situations, color coded uniforms, gear, and signals are frequently used to distinguish allies from enemies.
- Spotting camouflage – The ability to detect color differences helps identify hidden personnel and equipment using camouflage in foliage and terrain.
- Recognizing warnings and alerts – Colored smoke grenades, flares, lights and other markers are employed to alert infantry units of dangers or give instructions.
- Reading maps – Modern military maps utilize colored symbols, lines, and shading to convey important information for navigation and orientation.
- Seeing display screens – Screens and devices with color coded imagery from drones, weapon sights, and other technologies are part of operating modern infantry gear.
With such critical reliance on color observation in infantry activities, most militaries set strict standards on color vision for these roles. However, some may still qualify for service with milder color vision impairments or waivers.
Color Vision Requirements for Infantry
The exact color vision requirements for infantry positions vary between different armed forces and over time as policies evolve. But standard color vision testing is part of entrance processing for infantry roles in most Western nations. Two common benchmarks used are:
- Ability to pass the Ishihara color vision test – This test with colored dot plates screens for red-green color deficiencies.
- Meet minimum color vision acuity standards – These may include identifying signal lights, colored sticks, smoke, and plates examples at certain distances.
For example, the current U.S. Army color vision standard for most combat arms roles including infantry is no worse than 20/200 using Color Vision Testing Made Easy (CVTME) plates. For the Ishihara test, up to three missed plates on the 14-plate version or four misses on the 38-plate version is allowed. Other armed forces have similar accepted thresholds, provided individuals can prove satisfactory performance on more specialized combat-related color vision tasks.
Types of Color Blindness
There are different forms of color blindness that may affect potential infantry recruits:
- Red-green color deficiency – The most common type, involving reduced sensitivity to reds and greens. Ranges from mild to moderate to severe.
- Blue-yellow color deficiency – Less common, involving reduced perception of blues and yellows. Tends to be rare and mild.
- Complete color blindness – Very rare condition where no color is perceived at all, only shades of gray.
- Acquired color deficiency – Color vision loss caused by disease, injury or medications. Usually involves the red-green spectrum.
Mild forms of red-green color blindness such as deuteranomaly and protanomaly are often compatible with infantry service if the deficiency is not too severe. Those with moderate to complete color blindness have much lower prospects of passing entrance standards.
Can You Get a Waiver?
In some cases, waivers may be possible for those who fall slightly short of normal infantry color vision requirements. Waivers are considered on an individual basis, taking into account:
- Type and severity of color deficiency
- Performance on specialized color recognition and vision tests
- Ability to distinguish colors necessary for infantry tasks
- Eye health and visual acuity
- Overall capabilities and aptitudes
For example, the U.S. Army may grant waivers to those with mild protanomaly or deuteranomaly color deficiencies who pass supplemental color vision tests. However, moderate to severe impairments are less likely to receive waivers. Each branch sets their own waiver policies. Meeting with a recruiter to discuss options is important for those hoping for a waiver.
Infantry Jobs for the Color Blind
Completely color blind individuals and those with severe deficiencies have very slim prospects of serving in the infantry. But those with mild color blindness may be able to qualify for certain infantry support roles. Some options to consider include:
- Radio operator – Relies more on sound than sight for communications.
- Truck driver – Transporting infantry personnel and supplies.
- Cook – Preparing meals for the unit.
- Logistics support – Inventory, supplies, paperwork.
- Maintenance – Equipment repair and upkeep.
- Clerical/administration – Office management tasks.
While not direct combat roles, these support positions are still a way to be part of an infantry unit for those who don’t meet normal color vision standards. Extra training and experience could also open up leadership, training or recruiting positions down the road.
Tips for the Color Blind Joining the Infantry
What steps can you take to maximize your chances of successfully enlisting as an infantryman if you have color blindness? Here are some tips:
- Get officially tested – Confirm your exact type and level of color deficiency.
- Research standards – Learn the up-to-date policies on color vision for the branch you want to join.
- Discuss options with a recruiter – Find out if waivers are a possibility for your situation.
- Practice color recognition drills – Work on distinguishing key colors used in the infantry.
- Consider support roles – Look into positions that assist the infantry if you can’t meet requirements.
- Highlight other abilities – Emphasize the skills and aptitudes you can bring to a unit.
- Ask about appeals – Inquire if rejection decisions can be appealed with more testing.
While there are challenges for the color blind, perseverance and focusing on your strengths may still land you a role supporting the infantry and national defense.
Testing for Color Blindness in the Infantry
To screen for color blindness, armed forces use some standard tests during recruitment and entrance processing for the infantry and other combat roles. Two of the most common are:
Ishihara Color Test
- Shows circles of colored dots arranged in different numbers and patterns against contrasting dot backgrounds.
- Individuals must identify the patterns and numbers they see in each circle.
- 14, 24, and 38 plate versions used to screen for red-green deficiencies.
- Scoring is based on number of errors, with strict cutoff for infantry service.
Farnsworth Lantern Test
- Features four colored signal lights placed at a distance in low light conditions.
- Verbal and/or physical signals used to identify colored lights as they are briefly illuminated.
- Tests both color vision and ability to distinguish colored lights in night environments.
- Essential test for infantry roles that use colored flares, beacons, and other signals.
Other supplemental color vision tests may also be administered based on initial screening results and service needs. Thorough vision evaluation ensures only those who meet standards enter infantry service.
Supporting the Infantry With Color Blindness
Mild to moderate color blindness should not necessarily disqualify you from supporting the infantry and national defense. While traditional combat roles may be restricted, you can still find ways to contribute your skills and passions in roles such as:
|Color Vision Needs
|Repair and maintain infantry vehicles and equipment
|Low reliance on color
|Prepare meals for troops
|Moderate color needed for cooking tasks
|Manage equipment, supplies, transportation
|Minimal color vision dependence
|Handle administration paperwork and records
|Little color vision required
With creative thinking and focusing capabilities over limitations, those with color blindness may find rewarding careers supporting infantry operations, even if they can’t serve directly in combat roles.
Normal color vision is valued and usually required for frontline infantry service. The ability to accurately distinguish colors is considered vital for combat effectiveness and safety. However, individuals with milder forms of color blindness may still qualify to serve in an infantry capacity, especially in support roles. Standards evolve over time and waivers are possible in some cases. Thorough testing during recruitment can reveal your exact capabilities. If traditional infantry jobs prove unattainable, focusing on your strengths could still allow you to contribute to the defense of your country in a meaningful way. With determination and passion, there are possibilities to support the infantry in roles beyond the frontlines.