U.S. Army Sgt. Madelyn Gonzalez, of Aguada, Puerto Rico, a
paralegal for Task Force 44th Medical Brigade, reads a book to her
3-year-old son at Bagram Air Field with the help of the United
Through Reading program Nov. 19, 2011. Photo by Army Spc. William Begley
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (11/29/2011) — A soldier turns on the
video camera to record the book, “How the Grinch stole Christmas.”
As he reads, memories of sharing the story with his 9-year-old
son come flooding back. He pauses just a few moments after reading.
He doesn't want his son to see him cry.
In Afghanistan, the
time difference is over 12 hours from where his son lives.
Sometimes, he thinks it's easier to just stay busy and forget his
emotions. It's a coping mechanism that has kept him sane through all
After regaining his composure he continues
reading into the camera lens. After just a few sentences, he
realizes the camera has become his son.
Sponsored and run by
the United Services Organization, the United Through Reading
program, here on Bagram Air Field, offers deployed service members
an opportunity to keep in touch with their kids through the use of
books and DVDs.
“I absolutely love this program. It provides
an important connection point between parents and kids,” said Cathe
Ganley, the duty manager of the BAF USO.
taking part in the program first sign up for a time slot. The USO
has books available or one they bring with them. While the service
member reads, the camera, instantly records onto a DVD. Once
finished, they are given the book and the DVD, which are mailed at
no cost to the children back home.
U.S. Army Sgt. Madelyn
Gonzalez, of Aguada, Puerto Rico, a
paralegal for Task Force 44th Medical, has used the program three
times and believes it helps bridge the gap with her 3-year-old son
while she is deployed.
“When I was reading, [the book] was basically saying that
no matter what he did or how many stunts he pulled as a kid,
I would love him no matter what,” said Gonzalez. “Knowing
that even though I can't be there with him, he can take a
little piece of me when he goes to bed brings tears to my
Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Posch, of Alexandria,
Va., the Staff Judge Advocate for the 455th Air
Expeditionary Wing, has used UTR to stay in touch with his
four children, ranging from age 1 to 7 years old. He said
his kids love to see him on the TV or computer screen.
“It seemed like an incredible way to stay connected with
the kids,” he said. “They really miss having that regular
contact when I'm deployed.”
When the soldier reaches
the part of the story where the Grinch's heart grows three
sizes while listening to the Who's singing down in Whoville,
he pauses the camera. Once again trying to stop the tears,
he calls upon Ganley's advice on what to do if it gets too
hard to read.
“Sometimes service members will just
read about half way through and have the kids finish the
rest on their own,” said Ganley.
Everyone is given
privacy since it can be a very emotional experience, said
Ganley. The UTR program provides an excellent opportunity
for parents to escape from their deployment lives and speak
with their children one on one.
“It's their private
time and opportunity for them to talk with their kids,” she
said. “We give them the time and the space to do what they
need to do.”
Ganley said that the program has no
limits. She has had service members come in and read for
their unborn children, just to start the bonding process.
The program isn't just limited to service members with
children; some service members have nieces and nephews.
The soldier finishes the DVD by telling his son
something that he tells him every time they talk; the most
important thing in the world is that his father loves him.
He tells him to finish the book on his own and later when
daddy gets home; he can tell him how it ended.
By Army Spc. William Begley
Combined Joint Task Force 1 - Afghanistan
Comment on this article