AL ASAD, Iraq -- In an effort to keep military parents and children connected during deployments, the chaplains’ offices, in coordination with the Family Literacy Foundation, have been hosting the United Through Reading program.
United Through Reading is a free program available to all service members at Al Asad, designed to help keep them connected with their children by reading books recorded on DVDs.
“(The program) makes you feel a little better about leaving a (child) at home,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Chastity Morales, a religious program specialist for Marine Aircraft Group 29. “Knowing that they could see you on TV reading a book, and that they won’t forget what you sound like or what you look like. In addition to getting them interested in reading early.”
The only requirement from the service members is showing up to record their readings.
“All the books, DVDs and cameras are donated from various groups back in the states.” said Morales “(The service members) get up to 30 minutes to read to their children and talk to them. On top of that they get the DVD right on the spot and a free (package to mail it in).
We record the service members reading the books in a private room.”
Although various books are provided, service members are free to read anything they choose, according to Morales.
“They can bring in books that they have already been reading to their kids,” explained Morales. “I have someone who is reading the Bible to their child.”
Although the UTR program is not new to Al Asad, this year it was changed to reach out to more service members.
“We have actually been doing this program for a couple of years,” said Morales. “In the past, it was mainly set up at the chapels. We didn’t bring it out to the squadrons. So for this deployment, we are trying to bring it to the squadrons. For each day of the week, we have a designated day for each squadron.”
The MAG-29 chaplains and RPs have separated into two groups; one provides services for the rotary wing squadrons, while the other is responsible for the fixed wing squadrons.
“All the chaplains at all the commands here do United Through Reading in some way, shape or form,” said Morales. “We get anywhere from 8 to 20 (participants). I think a lot of people don’t know about it. In the past, you only found out about it if you happened to be in the chapel and you see them running the program. I’m hoping now that we come out to the squadrons more people will take advantage.”
Marines like Staff Sgt. Jeffrey S. Shuman, an airframes mechanic for Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, have recently turned to the program for support.
“I heard about the program last year, but I didn’t really take advantage of it,” said Shuman. “It would have been nice if I did. I think my son would have enjoyed it. My wife loves it, she knows it’s a good program and it’s all my boy asks for now, ‘I want to see daddy, I want to see daddy.’ He’ll watch it over and over again.”
This program can be utilized by all deployed personnel. They may choose to read aloud to a younger brother or sister, grandchild, or even a child they are mentoring.
“I think that it is a great program, no matter how old your kids are,” said Shuman. “At least if you’re not there, they can associate your voice with a face when you get back. I know my son did that the first time. He was kind of hesitant at first when my wife handed him to me, but recognized the voice and calmed down. I think that everyone should take advantage of it.”