Story by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Vaughan J. Dill
PACIFIC OCEAN – As USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) prepares to deploy to parts unknown, somewhere out in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Sailors will soon be forced to leave their loved ones behind, and communicate almost entirely through email or social media.
Many Sailors will come home to children who don’t recognize their faces. These children will have been born while their parents are on deployment, or too young to remember their face when they left. This is where United Through Reading (UTR) steps in to help.
UTR offers military service members the opportunity to record videos of themselves reading books that their children can watch and follow along with.
“The mission of UTR is to unite military families facing separation due to deployment, training or active-duty assignments,” said Taylor Monaco, UTR director of communications. “UTR is important because the separation is a routine part of military life that isn’t easy, especially for children at home.”
Through these simple stories on video, children can see their parent’s face, hear their voice and follow along in a book as their separated parent reads to them.
“UTR is open to any service member whether or not they are reading to their own children,” said Samantha Hagan Lingad, UTR national program manager, navy – west. “We encourage aunts, uncles, grandparents, godparents, mentors, friends, and older siblings to use the program to keep connected to the children in their lives.”
Studies indicate children from active-duty military families experience higher levels of
emotional difficulties during family separations than children in the general population.
“An earlier RAND Corporation study found a strong association between children who have endured separations from a parent due to deployment and lower achievement in reading and math,” said Monaco.
Children have the ability to watch the videos day after day until they have memorized every word, every gesture, every happy ending, and just like in storybooks, magical things can happen. Children’s anxieties fade; service members become part of daily life at home; spouses are supported because parenting is shared; homecomings begin with children welcoming a familiar parent, not a stranger; and children learn to love books and reading.
“Families who have used UTR have experienced significant benefits through the program,” said Monaco. “In fact, 90 percent of surveyed participants report that the program has reduced their own stress during deployment and over 80 percent report a decrease in their child’s anxiety about the deployment.”
While new technologies like Skype and FaceTime can keep families connected during separation, they are unreliable when the ship is at sea. Due to poor internet connection, insufficient bandwidth or an inability to sync family schedules with the service member’s schedule during deployment, families and their service members can be left feeling disappointed and frustrated by attempts to stay connected.
“This program goes a very long way towards keeping those other relationships strong during long separations,” said Lingad.
UTR was founded in 1989 by Betty Mohlenbrock, the wife of a naval flight surgeon who was deployed when their daughter was a baby. When Mohlenbrock’s husband returned their daughter didn’t recognize him. It took time to rebuild their bond. Mohlenbrock was also a reading specialist with a master’s degree in education who continually saw children entering school at a disadvantage because they had little or no exposure at home with the alphabet, new words or books.
Through these two experiences a concept emerged for Mohlenbrock. Separated families could sustain family bonds while enjoying the educationally beneficial tradition of reading together.
More than 25 years later, service members are reading to their children on video from UTR sites around the world. More than 2 million mothers, fathers, and children have sustained family bonds and built literacy skills by reading stories together across long distances.
For more information on UTR, contact Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Patrick Orthouse, Chief Hull Technician Steve Mcintosh or visit
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