Soldiers stay 'United Through Reading': Reading program a way for loved ones to stay connected
November 10, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Pfc. Tameka Harte opened a children's book and began reading her 8-year-old daughter a story about Thomas the Tank Engine. And though the ritual sounds routine, what made it unique was that the Basic Combat Training Soldier was reading to a camera set up in the corner of her chaplain's office; and her daughter was more than 200 miles away.
Harte was among those Soldiers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry program participating in a program that allows BCT Soldiers to read to their family members.
Battalion Chaplain (Capt.) Colt Randles said he first heard of the program, which is sponsored by United Through Reading, right before a 2008 deployment, and he used it to stay connected to his then 18-month-old daughter. After coming to the 1-13th, Randles said he soon realized that the BCT Soldiers he served could use something similar.
"In a lot of ways, our basic trainees are going through some of the same type of separation.
There's a lot of separation anxiety that the children face," Randles said, adding that the BCT experience is often the first time parents have been separated from their children for an extended period.
Randles said United Through Reading provided each of the 193rd Infantry Brigade's battalions with a starter kit of about 50 books. United Through Reading is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1989 to unite families by providing a read aloud experience for those who are physically separated.
The 1-13th library has grown to about 150 from various donations. Interested Soldiers are videotaped reading their chosen books, and the recording is then shipped to the Soldier's home.
Randles said the battalion first started the program in May, and had participation from 50 to 70 Soldiers during each of the first two cycles in which it was used. This last cycle garnered about 125 participants, he said.
"It's a very simple program that has tangible results," said Lt. Col. Matthew Zimmerman, 1-13th commander. "It takes 10 to15 minutes for an individual to (make the video), but it has lasting effects."
He added, "It helps maintain a connection."
Pfc. Quaneatra Watson, an 18-year-old Charlotte, N.C., native, signed up to use the program at the behest of her battle buddy, Harte. She has since made a video and had it mailed to her 2-year-old sister.
"My sister was excited," she said. "She was crying, she was calling my name. She was very happy to get it."
Harte, a 35-year-old from Elon, N.C., said her absence was difficult for her family, particularly her 8-year-old daughter, Triniti. Harte also has a 16-year-old daughter.
"I've never been away from my children," she said. "I wanted them to still have that contact."
Harte said the video was reassuring for her younger daughter who started crying at school one day when another child said her mother would die because she was in the military.
"When they got the video, they saw that I was OK," she said. "I think it was a comfort to her."
Her husband, Mario Wiley, said even the video was aimed at the younger child, it was a comfort to the entire family.
"I knew it was something good for the kids, something good for all of us," he said. "The video was something to reassure me that she was OK."
The family watched the video again Sunday, Wiley said, just a few days before traveling to Fort Jackson for his wife's Wednesday graduation.
"I was probably as (excited) as the kids were to see the video," he said, adding that he felt like he was losing a part of himself when his wife left for BCT. "It put a Band-Aid on the wound."