Servicemembers stay connected with families through reading during deployment

By CHRIS CHURCH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 21, 2016

ABOARD THE USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER — Petty Officer 1st Class Chardae Longshore sat book in hand and a smile on her face in the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower’s museum, surrounded by pictures of ship operations, historical posters, and a bust of the former president the ship is named for.

Facing her was a camera, the light turning red to show it had started recording.

“Hi Braylen, if you’re getting this video it means its time for bed,” Longshore said. “Mommy loves you.”

Longshore, like other sailors during Ike’s deployment to the Middle East, was participating in a program called United Through Reading, which allowed her to be video-recorded reading a bedtime story to her son in Virginia — thousands of miles from the carrier’s current location.

“I try to make sure I call him once or twice a week,” Longshore said. “When we hit ports, I make sure I FaceTime him so that he can see me. But it’s very difficult. He starts elementary school this year, so I’m going to miss his first day of ‘big boy school’ as I tell him. So it's very hard for me.”

United Through Reading, a San Diego-based non-profit organization, tries to bridge the distance between families and create an emotional bond by recording the servicemembers reading to their children and sending those DVDs home. The program also encourages children to read along with their deployed parents.

The program serves all branches of the military in hundreds of locations worldwide.

In 2015, United Through Reading sent 22,000 video recordings home to military children from 262 recording locations around the world, according to the program’s website. More than 10,000 children’s books have been distributed as well.

The program was founded in 1989 by a Naval flight surgeon’s wife. The husband deployed when their daughter was a baby, and when he returned, the daughter didn’t recognize him.

That still happens today, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Johnathan Hurkmans, a religious program specialist on Ike.

“Even at that stage, just being able to play the video at night, when you get back, that child is going to recognize you,” said Hurkmans. “They are going to remember that loving voice, that face on the TV ... it’s not going to be such an adjustment period when you get back.”

Longshore’s face lights up as she talks about how the program has benefited both her and her son.

“He’s so excited when he watches the DVD,” she said. “I got a picture of him trying to hug the TV and him talking to me on the TV. For me, it makes me feel more connected to him, knowing he can watch the video and see me when he wants. I’m excited about doing it.”

United Through Reading became the inaugural recipient this year of the Community Service Hero Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. It also received the 2015 American Prize of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards Program.

“It’s a sense of comfort for us on the ship knowing that we might not always be able to drop a line or give a phone call,” Hurkmans said. “But they are always able to hear our voice when they need to.”


Twitter: @CChurchStripes

Petty Officer 1st Class Chardae Longshore, deployed to the Middle East onboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, is video-recorded reading a bedtime story for her son back home. Longshore was participating in a program called United Through Reading, which allows deployed parents to record these stories and have the DVDs sent home to their families.

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