Does the Military Require Normal Color Vision?

How the military defines 'normal'

Color blindness test plates
Color blindness test plates. Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Color vision may be tested at Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS), but the U.S. Military does not make normal color vision a prerequisite to join the armed forces. Red/Green colorblindness is tested at the entry point to joining the military. Often it determines what jobs someone can or cannot do, but it does not prevent a recruit from joining the military and performing other military occupational specialties (MOS) or ratings.

With this review, learn not only when military service requires normal color vision and when it does not, learn how it defines normal also. 

When the Military Requires Normal Color Vision

A number of military jobs make normal color vision a requirement — and for good reason. Sometimes operational or safety aspects of certain jobs necessitate that one distinguish between colors, especially those involving lights, flares and the like. Since safety is the main reason these jobs require normal color vision, this standard can't be waived.  

For instance: Within Naval Special Warfare, the Navy SEALs and SWCC, you cannot be colorblind and failing any of the red/green colorblind tests below will disqualify you for such service in Naval Special Operations.  

Which jobs have unyielding rules about color vision? A number of combat operations jobs in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps all require to soldiers to see vivid reds and greens.

The same goes for the Army and Air Force Special Operations and Aviation jobs. So, if you're colorblind, still apply because you may fail one test, but you might not fail the other two tests and you will be qualified for these jobs. You never know until you try.

Make no mistake. Being color blind doesn't mean you can't join the military at all.

It simply means that you won't be eligible for some Military Occupational Specialties (MOS).  

What Is Normal?

The military uses three different tests to determine if soldiers have normal color vision. These tests are the Pseudoisochromatic Plate (PIP) Set, the Farnsworth Lantern (FALANT) and the OPTEC 900 Color Vision Tester. Which test is used to assess your vision is up to the military's discretion. Typically, the test performed depends on the facility you visit for your military entrance physical. 

During the Pseudoisochromatic Plate Set test, you'll be presented with plates featuring painted pictures that have a variety of color dots and a number in the middle made with different colored dots. You must not make more than three errors in the 14 plate set, or you will fail.

During the Farnsworth Lantern test, you'll see colored signal lights that you must detect from afar. Two lights will appear simultaneously, and you must select the right color (red, green or white). The lights will be darkened with a filter to prevent the colorblind from distinguishing between colors by their brightness. You must score 100 percent on this test to pass.

Finally, the OPTEC 900 Color Vision Tester is an updated version of the Farnsworth Lantern.

During this assessment, you'll face pairs of red, white and green lights and be directed to name the colors. Like the Farnsworth Lantern, you must earn a perfect score to pass this test.

Military Jobs With Less Strict Standards

Some military jobs, especially in the Army and Marine Corps, do not require normal vision but only the ability to tell apart the color red from the color green.

If you're concerned about how your color vision will affect your ability to perform military duties or which jobs you'll be eligible for, discuss your concerns with a military recruiter. But first, take the test at MEPS as you may still be eligible. However, if you failed any of the tests, find out which jobs you can perform regardless of your vision and pursue those in the military. There are many exciting jobs you can still apply for in the military and be color blind.