By Spc. Jennifer Spradlin, 16th Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentSeptember 29, 2010
KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - In a small, cheerful room decorated with alphabet letters on the walls and stuffed bunnies on a shelf, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Danchanko is reading to his son. With more than 14 years of service, this is his first deployment, his first time away from his wife of nine years and his first time away from their young son. He points to a star on the page and tells his son, that even though they are far apart, if he sees this star, it means that they are still close.
When the USO (United Services Organization) opened a location at Kandahar Air Field in September, it created a quiet space for servicemembers to go and relax and enjoy a variety of leisure activities. In addition to the videogame consoles, computers with Internet access and phones to call home for free, it made available three reading rooms.
Since the USO partnered with United Through Reading Program in 2006, more than 100,000 books have been sent home for children to enjoy while their parent was away. At the KAF location, there are between 50 to 80 recordings a day.
"The selection is good, and the program is awesome," said Danchanko, a Germantown, Md., resident. "You get a chance to interact with your child in an educational way. They get to see you, not just hear you.
Servicemembers are allowed to read, videotape and send one book per day at the USO. The book selection is divided into user-friendly age groups and is separated for boys and girls. To add to the convenience, the customs form and postage are handled on site.
For Danchanko, a nurse practitioner at Role 3, the medical facility which treats the most severely wounded and ill servicemembers, coming to the USO to read is an important stress reliever.
"My stress relief is reading to my kid every night," said Danchanko. "I'm here and I can focus on work. But this is a reminder that there's the short person, that's what I call him, at home waiting for me to come back."
The benefit of the program, said Danchanko, is ensuring that family bonds remain strong while servicemembers are deployed.
"I tell everybody when the Navy is done with me, my family is still going to be there. So this is kind of an investment, a little bit, in my future," said Danchanko, who plans to read a few books that are above his son's reading level in case he gets deployed again in the future.
According to the official USO website, there are nearly 120 USO locations around the world including 11 locations in Southwest Asia. For many deployed servicemembers, these locations provide a valuable link to the outside world.
"The USO is the best thing we've had out here. This is the most at home that I've felt since I've been gone, and that's consistent with the USO whether it was in Kuwait or here," said Danchanko.
To learn more about the USO and the United Through Reading Program visit www.uso.org.