By Army Sgt. Frank Vaughn
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 29, 2009 - A program in Iraq is helping deployed soldiers bond with their children back home through books. United Through Reading, a nonprofit organization, gives deployed soldiers an opportunity to record themselves reading stories on a DVD that is shipped home for their children to watch.
The program, available worldwide for deployed units, is coordinated here by Army Capt. (Chaplain) Mike Jones, chaplain for the 10th Mountain Division Special Troop Battalion, and his assistant, Army Spc. Annamarie Greenfield.
To participate, soldiers first choose a book from the collection, along with a miniature stuffed animal to help them tell their story. Soldiers may send the book and the furry friend home with the DVD as a keepsake.
"That's one of the neat things about this program," Greenfield said. "The book and the animal make a good heirloom for kids, grandkids and so on."
More than 80 soldiers have participated in the program since its inception here in June.
"We have handed out around 140 DVDs so far," Greenfield said. "Some soldiers come back to do it again and again."
Army Sgt. 1st Class James Morton, noncommissioned officer in charge of the battalion's security section, is one of the program's repeat customers. He said he enjoys reading books via DVD to his 4-year-old daughter, Emily.
"I first discovered this program when I was deployed to Qatar in 2005," Morton said. "Since coming to Camp Victory, I've done it at least seven or eight times."
While the United Through Reading program helps soldiers like Morton stay connected with their children and loved ones, the benefit to their families is apparent as well.
"One of the major reasons I do this over and over again is because of the stress relief it gives my wife," Morton said. "She pops in a DVD of me when my little girl is sad."
Morton said his daughter is glued to the television when he's on the screen. "She likes having daddy around," he said. "She's definitely a daddy's girl."
While the program benefits deployed soldiers with children, it is not limited to parents.
"People can read stories to nieces, nephews, cousins or whomever they choose to do this for," Greenfield said. "We can even set them up to read to school children they don't even know if they so desire."
(Army Sgt. Frank Vaughn serves in Multinational Division Center.)