By Seaman Eben I. Boothby, USN
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2006 – Five-time Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Gloria Estefan made a trip to the Norfolk-based aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt yesterday to promote the military's "United Through Reading" literacy program by singing and reading to children of military families. "It is through this program that children can remain in contact with their deployed parents and always have a fresh image of them, knowing they are okay," said Betty Mohlenbrock, founder and president of the Family Literacy Foundation and creator of United Through Reading.
The event was sponsored by Target, a major supporter of the Family Literacy Foundation and United Through Reading. Festivities took place in the ship's hangar bay, which was transformed into a "Winter Wonderland" with enormous glacier-like props scattered around a stage.
United Through Reading is a member of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which highlights corporate and grassroots support of U.S. military members and their families.
Estefan explained how she found her calling as a singer when as a young child she would record herself playing guitar and singing. She then sent the audio tapes to her father, who was serving in Vietnam. Her father would listen to the recordings and reply with an audio tape of his own.
"Everyday I would run to the mailbox hoping for another tape," Estefan said. "I loved the sound of my dad's voice."
As a facet of the Family Literacy Foundation, United Through Reading allows deployed military parents to stay in contact with their children by recording themselves reading books on video and sending DVDs or VHS tapes home to their families.
During the ceremony, Navy Vice Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet, and Theodore Roosevelt Commanding Officer Capt. J.R. Haley expressed their appreciation of United Through Reading and acknowledged the important role it offers servicemembers and their families.
"This program ensures a healthy family environment," Fitzgerald said. "It encourages sailors as they realize how important it is for their kids to see and hear them when they are away."
Estefan sang along with one of the audio recordings she sent to her father from more than 40 years ago during last night's ceremony. She then read her new children's book, "The Magically Mysterious Adventures of Noelle the Bulldog," to the crowd.
"We want all kids to enjoy the experience of their parents reading aloud," Mohlenbrock said. "Reading aloud to children is very important for their success in school and the rest of their lives.
The wife of a sailor deployed to the Persian Gulf was given a surprise during the ceremony.
Lisa McCarthy received a video recording of her husband, Lt. John McCarthy, a catapult officer or "shooter" deployed aboard the Norfolk-based aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. The message was beamed over two large screens situated on each side of the stage.
A strong supporter of United Through Reading, Lisa and her daughters, 3-year-old Sarah and 2-year-old Mary, have been sending books to John since he deployed more than four months ago. Since being deployed, John has sent home two videos of himself reading Sarah and Mary's favorite books.
In the video at yesterday's ceremony, John first said hello and expressed his love to his wife and daughters, then spoke of his appreciation for United Through Reading, explaining how it helps bring his family together while they are apart.
"It was a wonderful surprise for me, and it was really great for my kids to see their dad's face, even though he is on the other side of the world," Lisa said.