News: ‘United through Reading’ helps bring families together in Afghanistan
Story by Sgt. Thomas Duval
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - For decades, children have relied on the words read to them during bedtime stories to bridge the gap between reality and fantasy. Often times, the slow, calm tone of their parent's voice helps bring to life the words effortlessly written by the famous authors, sending them into a deep sleep.
For most children, the stories read to them become a memory etched deep into their memory, but for the children of service members serving in the military, the opportunity to hear their parent's voice is reserved for the occasional phone call. Here, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, that trend is steadily shifting, as more and more soldiers have discovered a "diamond in the rough" through the use of the United through Reading program.
Tucked in the center of Kandahar Airfield, soldiers are able to sit in a quiet room decorated with calming colors and stuffed animals and record themselves reading to their children. Once the service member has customized his or her video, dedicated staff members finalize the disc and mail it to the family member at no cost to the defenders of freedom.
Recently deployed to Afghanistan, soldiers from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska, have become the latest soldiers to take advantage of the program.
U.S. Army Spc. Jason Harris has learned firsthand how the program helps bring his family together during their year of separation.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sit in the room and read to my son,” said Harris, a Cavalry scout assigned to the 5th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1/25th SBCT. “I forget that I’m reading to a camera and instead just picture looking in my son's eyes and reading him a bed time story.”
He added as a smile spread across his tear filled cheeks, “My wife says my son always asks to ‘see Daddy.’ It makes me happy to know that even while deployed, I can still read him and, to him, it’s almost like I’m there with him.”
Sgt. Victor Saucedo, a personnel sergeant, is another ‘Arctic Wolf’ soldier who has found comfort from the UTR program.
“The exciting part for me is when my son opens the book and starts watching the movies,” he said. “My wife records his reaction and, for me, that’s a morale booster.” He continued, "My son is always surprised and excited, whether he's following along on the right page or not, the point is I get to be the one reading it to him, and that means the world to me.”
The program is such a success in the Saucedo family that the Dalzell, S.C., native has returned to record three different reading videos, each time picking a different book from the full bookshelves that line the walls.
The program has been bridging the gap between separated families since it was created in 1989. It was formed by a military spouse, mother and teacher, Betty J. Mohlenbrock. Since then, the program has touched thousands of lives to service members all around the world.
For more information on the UTR program, service members and their families can go online to http://www.unitedthroughreading.org/military-program/