The USO has a great program that connects deployed mothers and fathers with their children back home. It also connects Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen with school children or youth groups that participate in the program.
It called “United Through Reading” and I’m glad I found it. Each night after my shift (or during my lunch), I head to the USO and pick a book to read to my children. Right now, the book I’m reading is “On Christmas Eve” by Ann M. Martin.
The USO has about 50 books to choose from that range in age from babies and infants to young adults. So there’s something there for every child. This particular book I’m reading is probably geared more towards my 9-year old right now, but I plan to read other books as these are finished.
Each day, I go in and read about two chapters from the book in front of a video camera. The camera records my reading onto a DVD that is placed on a special note card where I can send a short note. The total length of each DVD is about 15 minutes. At the end of my readings, I usually give my kids and wife a little update about how things are going. Once it’s done, the USO packages everything up and mails it to my kids for free. The package includes one copy of the book I’m reading so the kids can follow along with me.
Today was interesting. About one paragraph before the end of my reading, we came under indirect fire and were forced to hit the ground and take cover. Naturally, the camera was recording everything. That will be an interesting DVD to watch, I’m sure.
I debated whether or not to redo this reading (since I can’t edit out that part of the DVD) and decided that this is reality. My kids are under no illusions that I’m in DisneyLand here. While I’m not nearly in as much danger as many of my fellow troops who leave the wire each day, there is no such thing as a safe place.
Anyway, to complete the United Through Reading cycle, parents at home are asked to record or photograph their children as their deployed mom or dad is reading to them and send it back to the deployed troop. It’s the USO’s way of connecting – or uniting – parents during year-long deployments.
According to its website, “United Through Reading®, a California-based nonprofit organization, has served over one million beneficiaries since1990. Since partnering with the USO in 2006, more than 100,000 books have been read at USOs worldwide, recorded, and enjoyed by families.”
A brief word about the USO. I can’t express how great this organization for troops. The USO here allows troops to call home, use the internet, play games (Playstation 3, Xbox, etc), and watch movies – among other things. I have a monthly allotment to goes to the USO and I’m glad I do. This little piece of home can’t be overstated or overappreciated. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you have extra money and you’re looking for a worthy troop cause to support, the USO is it.