By LTJG Matthew StroupFOB FARAH, AFGHANISTAN (NNS) -- More than 20 soldiers and sailors from Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah participated in a read-a-thon through the United Through Reading program on FOB Farah here, Jan. 18.
Sailors and soldiers from the PRT and other units on FOB Farah volunteered their time to read books to their loved ones and to students at Birch Elementary school in Idaho during a short operational pause.
The read-a-thon's goal was to raise awareness of the United Through Reading Program, connect deployed service members with their families and develop a love of reading for children who received books on DVD. PRT Farah is in its third month of a deployment in western Afghanistan where they train, advise and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district, and provincial level.
United Through Reading enables deployed parents to share their love and support with their children by reading books aloud on DVD. Service members can also read to younger siblings, nieces, nephews, and other extended family members as well as to other children whom they mentor.
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Jennifer Kleve is the command's United Through Reading coordinator and organized the read-a-thon for all service members on base. In addition to reading to family members, the read-a-thon provides an opportunity for service members without children to read to students at Birch Elementary, a school that the command partnered with in Idaho.
"One way we've tried to encourage UTR participation is by partnering with a school," said Kleve. "Many people don't participate because they don't have kids, but there are plenty of elementary school students who would love to have someone read them a book. This is a great chance to do just that."
Cmdr. Louis McCray, commanding officer of PRT Farah, fully supports the program and recognizes its benefits to service members and their families.
"Personal fortitude is a big part of our command philosophy, and United Through Reading supports the strong family connections that foster personal growth and fortitude. We all know that reading to children in their developmental years is of great benefit, and this program not only helps to connect deployed families, but it helps children grow as well," said McCray.
"Military commands love this program," said Sally Ann Zoll, Ed. D., chief executive officer of United Through Reading. "It minimizes deployment miles and helps military personnel parent from afar. The reassurance of seeing the deployed service member and having them talk to their children provides immense relief to the child and the spouse at home. The morale of the whole family is boosted."
Through United Through Reading deployed parents get a chance to share their love and support and children receive essential communication and literacy skills. While in the past, military personnel have been able to write letters, e-mail and send audio cassettes, United Through Reading offers children a chance to see their parent's face, listen to their voice and read along as their parent reads them a children's story. It also allows them to spend as much time with the deployed parent as they wish by watching the DVD over and over again.
U.S. Army Capt. Jacob Estrada, security force commander for the PRT, took the opportunity to read to his girls during the read-athon.
"United Through Reading is a great way for me to connect with my three daughters. When not deployed or in the field training I read with them every night as part of the bedtime routine. While I can't be there to read with them right now United Through Reading fills in some of the gap," Estrada said.
"Deployment doesn't only affect those who have volunteered for service. It affects hundreds of thousands of children as well," said Zoll. "Our goal is to lessen the strain of separation and increase bonding through the positive, educational experience that reading aloud provides."
Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah currently deployed to western Afghanistan and trains, advises, and assists Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district, and provincial level in Farah province, Afghanistan. Their civil-military team is comprised of members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).