By Kara Dallman
Military spouses and children face many unique challenges. The frequent moves, reassignments and deployments that many families experience mean that life is never simple or routine. The resiliency and strength of parents and children alike is outstanding – but that does not mean that it is easy.
Fortunately, there are numerous organizations dedicated to supporting military families and children –United Through Reading (UTR) is proud to be one of them. Dedicated to keeping military families connected through the read-aloud experience, UTR provides the opportunity for deployed service members to record a video of themselves reading a favorite book to their children. The recording and book are sent to their loved ones back home.
When Sergeant David Simmons left for his first deployment with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Iwo Jima, he wasn’t only leaving behind his wife, Hannah. The two were expecting their first child, a daughter. Hannah’s July due date fell during David’s deployment; this would be the first major life event David would miss.
“There is no sugar coating it. This deployment has been pretty terrible for me,” Hannah shared with UTR. “And I’m only 5 weeks deep. My only best friend is on the other side of the world serving our country. And I’m in a new city, alone, with close to no family… oh and I’m 6 months pregnant.”
It was at this five-week tough spot when Hannah received a surprise package containing a UTR recording from David. As the DVD played, Hannah could not hold back the tears and was in full on ‘ugly crying’ mode. In her words, “THIS is my husband. THIS is the man that I fell madly in love with. THIS is why, despite our situation, despite any negative thing going on in my life, THIS man is why I am the luckiest woman on earth!”
On more challenging days, Hannah takes comfort in playing David’s recordings of Daddy’s Lullaby and Where the Wild Things Are. Although David recorded these stories for their daughter, they actually helped Hannah make it through the deployment. She even said, “To some it may just be a man being recorded reading a book but to me it was reassurance from my husband that I am not alone, that despite the miles, he is supporting me, supporting our family and the new chapter of parenthood we are crossing into.”
These UTR recordings have helped relieve some of David’s fears as well. Every time David records a story for his daughter, he feels closer to her, more connected to Hannah and rests easy knowing his little girl will know his voice when he returns from deployment.
UTR offers deployed parents the opportunity to be video-recorded reading storybooks to their children, which eases the stress of separation, maintains positive emotional connections and cultivates a love of reading. At nearly 200 recording locations worldwide, U.S. service members can read to their children from command units on ships, in tents in the desert and at USO centers worldwide. Research shows that the read-aloud experience is a way for children to experience the joy of reading and gain critical learning and communications skills.
For more information, visit www.unitedthroughreading.org or call (858) 481-7323. UTR can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.