News: Reading program rebuilt due to generous donations
Story by Staff Sgt. Carmen Fleischmann
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - The United through Reading program has been available to service members deployed to Joint Task Force Guantanamo for quite some time. This service allows troopers to record themselves reading a story, and then send that recording and the book to their child back home.
“It’s another way to connect, and all of us know the excitement of getting something in the mail,” said Navy Cmdr. Thomas Taylor, the JTF chaplain. “Even if we’re getting emails all the time it still means something when someone sends us that card in the mail, and this is a way for the parents here to send something home that their kids will enjoy and will keep them connected. ”With the many Soldiers, Marines,
Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen that cycle through the island however, supplies for this invaluable program had begun to dwindle.
“Someone approached me and said that she had come to read a book to her daughter and was kind of disappointed at the state of the books - they were worn, it was slim pickings - the last of the last books,” said Mrs. Ashley Clark, part of the 525th Military Police Battalion’s Family Readiness Group.
During a round table discussion with Mrs. Kelly, wife of U.S. Southern Command Commander, Marine Gen. John Kelly, Ashley suggested replacing the books as one of the ways to boost morale for the Soldiers here. At the change of command for the admiral, the general’s wife surprised the FRG with four large bank boxes full of books that she had collected. Additional contributions were also made by the Joint Detention Group Deputy Commander Army Lt. Col. Michael Shoen and his wife, from donations from their hometown, as well as personal donations made by other families on the island to help support the cause.
Ashley was happy to help organize the donation effort, as she remembers the joy she felt when her daughter received a book and message in the mail while her husband was deployed.
“There was an inscription from Daddy on it, and there was this book by dad read to her,” said Ashley. “It meant a lot to me that Toby (Army Capt. Tobias Clark, with JDG) took the time to do that for our children.”
With the generous contributions from military spouses and other Naval Station Guantanamo Bay residents, children of deployed parents and family members can enjoy receiving books that they would recognize, in addition to the loving message they receive from the person they miss.
“It makes a tremendous difference,” said Taylor. “It wasn’t attractive. The books weren’t the best that … they weren’t what our Troopers deserved, and not what their kids deserved. Now we got some books that kids are really going to appreciate: the Disney titles and those books from Pixar movies and stuff like that, that kids will really identify with an enjoy.”
The reading area was also revamped and now offers a large leather reading chair and book shelves to create a cozy and quiet sitting area where parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents can read privately to their child back home one-on-one.
The Chaplain’s office is located inCamp America, behind the mail room, staffed between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The reading room can be reserved for a specific time by calling ahead to 2305.