Deployments can be tough on service members and their families as they endure extended periods of time separated from each other. Despite this fact, troops continue to carry on in service to the country, conducting their missions with pride and honor.
During their deployment, the troops assigned to one unit have found a creative way to stay connected with their loved ones while also spreading the love of reading. More than 20 service members assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah recently participated in a read-a-thon in honor of the United Through Reading, a program that enables deployed service members to create a DVD for their loved ones as they read stories aloud.
Soldiers and sailors from the team and other units on Forward Operating Base Farah volunteered their time to read books to their loved ones and to students at Birch Elementary school in Idaho during a short operational pause.
U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Jennifer Kleve is the command’s United Through Reading coordinator and organized the read-a-thon for all service members on base. In addition to reading to family members, the read-a-thon provides an opportunity for service members without children to read to students at Birch Elementary, a school that the command partnered with in Idaho.
“One way we’ve tried to encourage UTR participation is by partnering with a school,” said Kleve. “Many people don’t participate because they don’t have kids, but there are plenty of elementary school students who would love to have someone read them a book. This is a great chance to do just that.”
U.S. Navy Cmdr. Louis McCray, commanding officer of PRT Farah fully supports the program and recognizes its benefits to service members and their families.
“Personal fortitude is a big part of our command philosophy, and United Through Reading supports the strong family connections that foster personal growth and fortitude. We all know that reading to children in their developmental years is of great benefit, and this program not only helps to connect deployed families, but it helps children grow as well,” said McCray.
“Military commands love this program,” said Sally Ann Zoll, Ed. D., chief executive officer of United Through Reading. “It minimizes deployment miles and helps military personnel parent from afar. The reassurance of seeing the deployed service member and having them talk to their children provides immense relief to the child and the spouse at home. The morale of the whole family is boosted.”
United Through Reading allows deployed parents to share their love and support while also teaching children essential communication and literacy skills. While military personnel can still write letters, e-mails and send audio cassettes, United Through Reading offers children a chance to see their parent’s face, listen to their voice and engage in a shared activity as they read along with their parent. It also allows them to spend as much time with their deployed mom or dad as they wish by watching the DVD over and over again.
U.S. Army Capt. Jacob Estrada, security force commander for the PRT, took the opportunity to read to his girls during the read-a-thon. “United Through Reading is a great way for me to connect with my three daughters. When not deployed or in the field training, I read with them every night as part of the bedtime routine. While I can’t be there to read with them right now, United Through Reading fills in some of the gap.”
“Deployment doesn’t only affect those who have volunteered for service. It affects hundreds of thousands of children as well,” said Zoll. “Our goal is to lessen the strain of separation and increase bonding through the positive, educational experience that reading aloud provides.”
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