Reading With Daddy In A War Zone

Susan Page
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Wednesday - September 21, 2011
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To a child, the deployment of a parent is often confusing, as the daily rituals that create family bonds are suddenly interrupted. It was rough on my children when their dad deployed way back when. Rituals like snuggling into Mommy’s or Daddy’s lap with a book open wide to pictures and stories of animals or clouds is about as sweet as a child/parent relationship gets one cherished routine missed when a deployment calls.

Now, thanks to the USO and its partner United Through Reading Military Program, a child can watch Dad or Mom read a story again and again, even though miles away.

According to Eva Laird Smith, director of USO Hawaii, this is a hugely popular program for our troops deploying from Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe or Schofield Barracks.

“The USO video-records Mom or Dad reading a favorite book and the DVD and book are then sent to the kids back home,” explains Smith. “Troops often wait in line for hours to use this service.” They arrange all this during their “pre-deployment expo,” which offers a variety of services.


The USO provides the books, videotaping equipment and DVD. Voila! All Dad or Mom does is sit in front of the camera and read their hearts out. The service member then designates the child’s name and when the DVD should be sent, maybe birthday time or special holiday. How cool is that? Smith says it’s also a “two-way program,” whereby the same book is sent to the child for her to read it back recorded on a DVD the USO sends overseas.

The Internet service Skype is popular with military families, but obviously Skyping requires all parties to be available at the same time hard when the 3year-old is crying for Daddy at 4 p.m. and it’s 3 a.m. in Afghanistan. Wanna see Daddy now? OK, pop in the DVD. There he is! As a grandma, I know that children, especially 3and 4-year-olds, are happy to read the same book countless times (I can recite every page of Go Dog Go!), especially if their sorely missed parent is the reader.

Given the sobering statistics, these DVDs might also turn out to be “the last link between parent and child,” Smith says. More than 40,000 service members have been injured in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some estimates say more than 300,000 troops suffer from “invisible wounds,” including post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. Even if Mom or Dad comes home, they may not be the same parent that left at least for a time. Of course, tragically, some don’t come home at all.

On a personal note, during the Vietnam War, we only had the old cassette recorders. In 1972, my husband John, a Marine, recorded messages to 2-year-old Joy, then we’d record her little voice and send it back to him. Eight years later John died in a military jet crash. Emotions being raw, I sealed his personal belongings in a box only to be opened years later when I found the tapes. Joy was now grown and working in D.C. I still couldn’t bear to listen to them, but she and her brother, a Marine aviator, who had no recollection of his dad, played the tapes. To have a little piece of him again was a precious gift. A DVD would’ve been priceless.

The USO, a non-governmental organization that’s been around since 1941, continues today with, among others, programs such as bringing entertainers to perform at remote bases around the world (remember the Bob Hope shows?). USO Hawaii, with centers at Hickam AFB and Honolulu International Airport, is especially focused on its “Enduring Care” program, which Smith says “keeps track of 45 sailors and Marines at MCB Kaneohe and about 350-plus from Schofield Barracks.”


In his article, “The Invisible Wounds of War,” in the summer/fall 2011 issue of On Patrol magazine, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli writes, “These ‘invisible’ injuries in my opinion represent the ‘signature wounds’ of this war. And, we must ensure leaders, soldiers, family members everyone understands they are real, ‘no-kidding’ injuries.

Individuals struggling with them should never be allowed to suffer in silence.”

“We’re always looking for ways to help our military troops, to reduce their stress, strengthen families and build morale,” says Smith.

Operating on an extremely tight budget, USO Hawaii uses approximately 100 volunteers to operate a range of services from travel assistance to helping military families on official orders to the awesome reading program.

It all helps one deployed parent, one child, one book at a time.

The 2011 USO Hawaii’s Gala Tribute will be held Sept. 24 at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center honoring active duty military troops. It includes a champagne reception, dinner, a silent auction, entertainment and optional tours. For information and reservations, call 422-1213 or go to http://affiliates.uso.org/hawaii/ .

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