By William K. Alcorn
Award-winning Air Force Maj. Tara Jayne, an Austintown native, has used her expertise as an optometrist to help police arrest a murder suspect in Hawaii, bring sight-giving glasses to the poor in Djibouti and help identify the remains of American soldiers from past wars.
She also treats military personnel and their families at bases around the world, and for her body of work, she recently was named the 2012 Armed Forces Optometric Society Junior Officer of the Year.
And that’s just the short list of accomplishments for Jayne, daughter of Sam and Christine Paul of Austintown.
The divorced mother of 6-year-old twins, Bryson and Dakodah, is stationed with the 65th Air Base Wing Medical Operations Squadron at Lajes Field on the Archipelago of the Azores in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Jayne is a 1993 graduate of Austintown Fitch High School, where she was a member of the National Honor Society and played volleyball. Under the Senate Bill 140 post-secondary dual-enrollment program, she attended classes full time at Youngs-town State University while in high school, graduating in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
When she was a junior at Ohio State University College of Optometry, an Air Force recruiter introduced her to the Health Professions Scholarship Program. She said that changed her life.
Although her father is an Air Force veteran, she had no plans for a military career. The fact that HPSP would cover 100 percent of tuition, fees and books along with a stipend for two years in exchange for four years of service commitment got her attention, however.
“It sounded ideal to me. In exchange for payment for two years of school, I would be set up in a job to get four years of experience right out of school, and then have no outstanding loans at the end of my commitment and get to do what I love,” she said.
Since graduating in 2003 from OSU, it’s been a whirlwind, Jayne said.
She began her Air Force career at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., where she started a program called Opening Eyes for special-needs children participating in the Special Olympics.
At Osan Air Base in South Korea, Jayne worked with an orphanage providing eye screenings. After transferring to Hickam AFB, Hawaii, where she was chief of optometry services, she worked with the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command, or JPAC, which recovers and identifies missing Americans from past wars via their remains and artifacts recovered from the sites of a conflict.
Jayne’s part in the process was to examine pieces of eyeglasses recovered and compare the prescriptions with medical records of military members believed to have been in the area.
“Sometimes, the forensic team would bring a complete set of glasses, and other times, just jagged fragments of glass,” she said. “The information I offered supplemented dental and medical records in attempts to match, identify, and repatriate remains and return them to their families for proper closure.”
She even used her opto-metry skills to help police catch a murder suspect.
One day the Hawaii State Police came to JPAC with a pair of glasses from a suspicious vehicle, the only item they found while searching for a missing Japanese girl.
Without enough evidence to get a subpoena to investigate the individual who owned the vehicle, they sought the assistance of JPAC.
The suspect was driving a truck that carried liquid fertilizer that had killed the DNA on the glasses that had fallen under the seat. The glasses were sent to Jayne.
Because the missing girl had a very specific eye disease, Jayne said she was able to match the glasses to the missing girl “with absolute certainty.”
Armed with Jayne’s findings, the police obtained a subpoena, and the man confessed as soon as they arrived at his place and he was arrested.
While stationed at Ramstein AB in Germany, Jayne worked two years in optometry and one year in the Exceptional Family Member Program before moving to Lajes Field, Azores, last August, where she provides vision care for all active-duty personnel, their family members and retirees.
During her career, Jayne also has served on humanitarian missions to the Dominican Republic, Thailand, Philippines and Djibouti.
In Djibouti, a young man, about 18, was brought in by his mother to find out why he was blind. They weren’t looking for a cure, just a diagnosis, Jayne said.
As it turned out, he was very myopic, or near- sighted, and couldn’t see anything farther away from his eyes than his eyelashes, she said.
Jayne put glasses on him that were not quite strong enough to correct his vision. Her intent was to have glasses with the correct prescription made and sent back to him.
“He looked at me with the most puzzled look through those glasses, then toward his mother’s voice,” Jayne said.
“When he could see her for the first time — mind you, his ‘seeing’ even with those glasses was the way you would see through a pane of glass smeared with Vaseline — he just began crying and told her how beautiful she was. She grabbed me, shaking and sobbing, and just wouldn’t let go,” Jayne said.
Jayne said she is grateful to her parents for the support they always give her and to everyone back home for their support of the military, especially those stationed in harm’s way, or far from their families.
“Tara loves her job and the Air Force. They have provided endless opportunities for her and her children. We’re extremely proud of her,” her parents said.