The physical distance between a military parent and child can be a lot to handle during a deployment.

United Through Reading, a San Diego-based nonprofit organization, helps limit the emotional distance by connecting deployed Soldiers and the children who are special to them, through the bonding experience of reading aloud together

"When I was a Soldier in Iraq in 2004, I videotaped myself reading a story to my son and mailed it home in time for Christmas," said retired Maj. Eric Shuler, New Jersey Army National Guard, in a press release. "Christmas is probably the most difficult day of the year to be away from home."

United Through Reading allows the Soldier to read a book to his or her child via a DVD recording while they are separated. In this way, the parent and child can participate in a simple activity together, even when they are apart.

"It minimizes deployment miles and helps military personnel parent from afar," said Sally Ann Zoll, chief executive officer of United Through Reading, in a press release. "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."

The story selection is vast, with many options for infants through 18-year-olds. Since the program's beginning in 1989, more than a million military participants and their Families have benefited.

Fort Campbell Soldiers are able to record a DVD for their Families while deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. More than 30 recording locations are available in Afghanistan alone, including FOBs such as Joyce, Fenty and Salerno. More than 200 units, including some from Fort Campbell, use the program.

The program allows the units or their United Service Organization partners, both at home and abroad, to host places to record. A selection of books from a lending library is usually available at the location, or Soldiers can bring a personal book from their collection to read. At USO-hosted locations, Soldiers are able to send the DVD, as well as the book, to their children.

The recording process is easy, as Soldiers are given time to select a reading, practice and then record a 30-minute DVD for their Family.

These DVDs become a great way to have daddy or mommy available at any time, unlike Skype or a telephone call. United Through Reading's Army National Program Manager, Melissa Malloy, helps coordinate and train the participating units.

"We encourage special messages," Malloy said. " ... [Children like] to hear the voice of their service member and see the face of their loved one and know that they're safe.

"By having this DVD, they can see you as often as they want during the day."

Malloy said feedback from Families is positive and grateful, with many saying their children hug the TV or ask Daddy to read another story after watching the DVD. With many fathers away during or immediately after the birth of a child, United Through Reading provides bonding from afar.

"It's really important for these new fathers to be a part of their children's lives," Malloy explained. "[Children] feel that connection already."

Malloy encourages interested units to get involved prior to deploying, in order to make sure they have all the required equipment, as well as to make training and coordinating of volunteers easier.

While United Through Reading presents an invaluable opportunity to parents and children, Malloy said Soldiers can read books to nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters and more.

"The program is open for every service member to be eligible to participate," Malloy said.

The greatest advantage of the program, which is staffed on-site by volunteers, is the ability for Soldiers to remain in touch with their children.

"This gives Soldiers an opportunity to stay connected during deployment," Malloy said.

"What we have found is that our program really does make a difference when the reunions occur."

USO Fort Campbell Director Stacia Holland Sparrows has been assisting with the program on post since the summer. She said a recording location is set up as needed at the Family Resource Center.

The advantage of an on-post site allows deploying Soldiers to be pre-recorded before deployment, and also allows children and Family Readiness Groups to be involved on the homefront.

PROGRAM information

Aca,!Ac To learn more about United Through Reading and view a comprehensive list of the program's sites throughout the world, visit www.unitedthroughreading.org/military/.

Aca,!Ac For more information or to set up the program for a specific unit, e-mail Melissa Malloy at melissa.malloy@unitedthroughreading.org. To record at the FRC, contact Stacia Holland Sparrows at (571) 236-9118 or SHolland@uso.org

Page last updated Fri December 17th, 2010 at 15:14