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Even though Petty Officer 2nd Class Isaac Stevens, of the Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan-based Fighter Attack Squadron 102, is underway on USS Kitty Hawk, he can still read to his 2-year-old son, Jaysen, as part of the United Through Reading program.

Even though Petty Officer 2nd Class Isaac Stevens, of the Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan-based Fighter Attack Squadron 102, is underway on USS Kitty Hawk, he can still read to his 2-year-old son, Jaysen, as part of the United Through Reading program. (Matthew Reinhardt / U.S. Navy)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A few minutes with a picture made a big difference when Lt. Cmdr. Amy Bauernschmidt reunited with her young niece after a long underway.

The girl recognized her and quickly “warmed up” because her sister-in-law had repeatedly shown the child photographs of her aunt before she arrived, Bauernschmidt said.

Bauernschmidt took it a step further and went “video” with the USS Kitty Hawk’s United Through Reading program. Now, the 3-year-old knows the officer in charge of the Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron Light 51 detachment aboard the aircraft carrier as “Aunt Mamie.”

“I wanted my niece to continue to recognize me and, since I am stationed in Japan and not often able to make it home, I thought this would be a great way to do it,” Bauernschmidt said.

“My niece is very cute, she will run around my brother’s house with the CD and book in her hand asking for ‘Aunt Mamie’ to read to her.”

United Through Reading (UTR) is a Family Literacy Foundation program that has been aboard Navy ships for the past decade. So far more than 143,000 military parents, spouses and children have tried it out since the Gulf War, according to the organization’s Web site. The foundation maintains that, besides family bonding, reading figures into the child’s future academic success and better family relationships improve the work climate.

Aboard the Kitty Hawk, sailors sign up for a 30-minute time slot and report to the ship’s television studio. They read from their own favorite children’s book or choose one from the 300-book UTR library aboard. A support volunteer sets up the camera and leaves the sailor to record a 15- to 25-minute session in private. Volunteers transfer the recording to a videotape or compact disc for the sailor to mail along with a copy of the book, so the child can read along at home. Ideally, someone back home films the child watching the video, so the process goes full circle.

The Kitty Hawk has seen more interest in UTR this deployment, said program coordinator Petty Officer 1st Class Maria Cabrera. This is due to increased awareness, media advertising and word of mouth, she said.

“The only time we see any decline in numbers has been dependent upon operation conditions with the ship,” Cabrera said. “Overall the program runs great 95 percent of the time.”

Talking to the camera in an empty room does require some getting used to. Bauernschmidt said one is prone to read “too fast.”

But the more you do it, the easier it gets, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jo-Ann Henderson, who reads to her 15-month-old daughter, Audrine. She brings her own books on board as the selection isn’t great for her daughter’s age group, she said. But, according to her husband at home, her daughter cares more for the reader then the reading material.

“The reaction that I got from my child was that she sat through the whole video and wasn’t even concerned about the book, just the fact that she saw me was all she wanted,” Henderson said. “With a reaction like that you can’t help but feel good, knowing that your child is just happy to see you on video while you are gone.”

For more information, visit www.read2kids.org.


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