Stories help families connect

Technology bridges gap between home, front lines


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Two children in the United States watch a video recorded by their deployed father who used the United Services Organization’s United Through Reading service at Bagram Airfield, Aghanistan. The USO records deployed servicemembers reading to their loved ones and sends the DVD and book back to the member’s home.

U.S. Air Force courtesy photo

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Deployment can be hard on a family. It can be even harder for a service member who would normally read their children a good-night story but are not around to do so. However, the Pat Tillman Memorial United Services Organization here offers a service to help close that gap.

The program is a cooperative effort between the USO and the federal non-profit organization United Through Reading. It allows overseas personnel to read to their loved ones back home through recorded video.

Cathe Ganley, the United Through Reading coordinator here, said the mission of the USO is to lift the spirit of the troops overseas or away from their family.

“One way we do that is by providing some of the comforts of home,” she said. “Some of these comforts include free phone calls to home, free computers and free WiFi.

With the United Through Reading Program, we record service members reading a book and send both the book and DVD home to the states so the children, mom, dad, grandma or whomever can read with them whenever they want.”

USO patrons can bring their own book or choose from the selection provided. The USO has children’s books for young readers and chapter books for older kids. They can read for up to 30 minutes while being recorded. Afterwards, USO personnel will package the book and disc and send them to the address provided by the service member.

Ganley said the Pat Tillman Memorial USO sends 60 to 100 packages to families in the U.S. every three days.

Air Force Master Sgt. Daniel Fish, deployed from the 623rd Logistics Readiness Squadron at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, is a first-time user and took the opportunity to read to his two daughters.

“It’s a little more personal than me just reading a book over the phone,” Fish said. “My youngest daughter is in an accelerated reading program, so now I have a good reason to use the program and read with her. I know that my daughters will enjoy it.”

Air Force Master Sgt. Santiago Belen, deployed from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard, read to his son, Justin, and daughter, Gabrielle. He read one book in English and the second book in Spanish.

Belen has shipped DVDs through the United Through Reading program several times.

“It’s another way which the USO has given us to reach out to our families back home,” Belen said. “More than phones and more than letters. I and my family definitely appreciate it.”

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