Monday, December 22, 2008

United Through Reading program brings families closer

Story by Lance Cpl. Ronald W. Stauffer

CAMP BARBER, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Forward-deployed service members in Afghanistan are staying in touch with family, friends and children through a simple yet effective program dubbed United Through Reading.

The program is offered through the chaplains of Combat Logistics Battalion 3 and 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, the logistics and ground combat elements of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, at the chapel aboard Camp Barber, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

“It’s a program where mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles can read a book to their family or even a classroom,” said Navy Lt. Karen Rector, CLB-3 chaplain. “It’s a way to keep connected.”

The service members simply read a book of their choosing from the chaplains’ extensive library and are videotaped as they read it. Afterward, the chaplains present the service members with a mini-DVD recording and a padded envelope to send the message home. In about two weeks, service members here have recorded and mailed approximately 50 greetings.

Rector said the absence of a deployed parent can have a huge impact on a child, but the United Through Reading program provides the child with both a visual and aural reference, making the absent parent seem closer to home.

“It’s a very special and important program that fills a big gap with the families because the children get to see and hear mom and dad,” Rector said. “The majority of service members are excited and can’t wait to read to their children.”

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffery B. Pritchett, the leading petty officer for 3/8’s Battalion Aid Station, said he reads to his son regularly, and it helps throughout the deployment.

“I made videos before I left, and my wife said (my son) gets excited when he sees me on TV,” Pritchett said. “He makes everyone sit down and watch the videos.”

Deployed parents aren’t the only individuals who can send videos.

Pfc. Rebecca L. Ortego, a combat engineer with CLB-3, found herself reading to two young ladies whom she’d never met.

Rector said she received a letter from a single mom with two daughters who were going through a rough time. The mother asked for a female Marine to write to her and her daughters. Instead, Ortego went one step further in fulfilling the request by taking advantage of the United Through Reading program and mailed the family a DVD. Ortego said she’s always loved reading to children and used to be a reading tutor.

“I like to be involved and the feeling that I can reach out to younger children and support them like they try to support us,” she said.

Rector said the program is a neat experience for the children and the service members, and it entices everyone to take the chance to share a story or personal message with their loved ones or someone they might not know.
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