Reading-tape program keeps kids in touch with parents at sea
July 29, 2004
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Many years ago, when the current USS Kitty Hawk commander, Capt. Tom Parker, was a pilot aboard a ship cruising the Mediterranean, he sat on his bunk, opened a book and created a memory his family has cherished ever since.
The book was “Lemon Drop,” concerning a candy-loving zoo elephant. And Parker read it while being videotaped, and mailed the video to his son, Jake, then about 4.
“He’d read a little bit, then he’d go, ‘Ow! Ow!,’ ” Parker’s wife, Ann, recalled. “All the time he had this plastic shark on his ear. And of course Jake just thought this was hilarious.”
The hilarious shark reference was to Parker’s squadron, known as the “fightin,’ bitin’ ” Steel Jaws.
“It’s one of my fondest memories of the early years of my father,” said Jake, now 18. “We didn’t get to see each other very often but it was a kind of way for us to bond even while he was away.”
A Yokosuka woman is working to provide that bonding experience for more base children and their deployed parents. Kara Dallman, a former Navy lieutenant commander who left the service to be a full-time wife and mother, is promoting a long-standing but not fully exploited military program designed to connect deployed parents with their offspring, called United Through Reading.
“This is a good way to keep in touch,” Dallman said. “And it gives the parent at home a chance to do laundry or the dishes” while the child watches the video.
Dallman received a $2,500 donation for books from the Yokosuka Officers’ Spouses’ Club. On Tuesday, she had children, at the base library for a weekly story time, open a box of books donated by the Virginia-based Alpha Delta Kappa sorority of women educators. She also sent letters home with the kids describing the program, sponsored by the Family Literacy Foundation. Part of the idea, she said, is to “get them reading, and good literature, too. There are beautiful books some children have never seen before.”
Dallman and a group of coordinators ensure children’s books and mailers are brought aboard ships before they deploy; on-board coordinators then schedule taping times and make sure the tapes get mailed. Dallman also is working to get the same books for children to follow along with at home, while the tape plays.
Recently, Petty Officer Second Class Mike McDonald videotaped numerous fathers reading stories aboard the USS Vandegrift and mailed the tapes to Yokosuka from Australia.
“Just to have something in the mail from dad, mailed through the Australian post office!” said Tammy McDonald, Mike’s wife and the ship’s shore coordinator.
Lt. Cmdr. Jim Jones, who’s on the Seventh Fleet staff, participated in the program years ago when he was based in San Diego, aboard the USS Princeton. He then helped get it going locally on the USS Cowpens.
“Actually, it was great,” he said. “I know my kids thoroughly enjoyed it. They liked seeing Dad on the tape instead of just getting a phone call or an e-mail. It made them feel more like you were there.”
Jones remembered reading “The Panda Palace” and also remembered feeling a little silly the first time out. “Obviously, you feel a little self-conscious when you’re reading a children’s book to a petty officer who’s taping you,” he said. “But after you hear from the kids, it makes it a lot easier.”