Story by MCSA Carla Ocampo
Photo by MC3 Will Tyndall

In an effort to strengthen the connection between deployed Sailors and their children at home, USS John C. Stennis will kick off the United Through Reading program (UTR) today, in the Stennis Room (1-180-3-Q). Crewmembers will be videotaped reading books to their children, and given a DVD to mail home to their families to enjoy.

“I think it’s a great program that helps us stay connected with our families,” said Personnel Specialist Seaman (SW) Natalie Camden. “It’s one of the only ways my family can see me while on deployment. Even though my kids are 10 and 12 they still like being read to. It’s one of those small moments you will always remember.”

Founded by the Family Literacy Foundation during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, UTR is made possible aboard Stennis by the ship’s Media department and an all- volunteer staff of program coordinators.

“United Through Reading is a great program,” said Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Chris Harding (AW/SW), a UTR coordinator aboard Stennis. “United Through Reading really helps us stay in touch with our families while we are deployed.”

Sailors who have taken part in UTR on previous deployments found the experience rewarding for themselves and their families.

“I made United Through Reading tapes on my first cruise aboard USS Roosevelt when my daughter was about two or three, I did a lot of books aimed at really young kids.” said Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class (AW) Mark Veurink from the “Black Aces” of VFA-14. “I also did it for her during my last cruise aboard the Roosevelt, and my daughter still has the books, DVDs, and VHS tapes I created through UTR on my previous deployments.”

The UTR isn’t only a way for deployed Sailors to stay connected with children at home; it’s also a tool to encourage children to read.

“I try to encourage people to read aloud to their kids,” said retired Rear Adm. Stephen Loeffler, leader of the embarked Regional Security Education Program, embarked aboard JCS from the NavalPostgraduateSchool. “If you read aloud to your kids when they’re small, their propensity to keep reading throughout their lives is much higher than if you don’t.”

The program will be offered throughout the entire deployment and is open to any service member, including those who do not have children but would like to send a message or read a book to someone special in their lives. Sign ups will be taken daily outside the Stennis Room, and taping will run daily from 0900 – 2100.

For Sailors deployed aboard Stennis who want to maintain and strengthen relationships with loved ones at home, UTR offers a unique and creative way to stay in touch.