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Reading Helps Deployed Troops To Stay In Touch
by Army Spc. William Begley - December 3, 2011

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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
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 his deployments.

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.

Service members 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 eyes.”

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
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2011

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