Program helps connect deployed service members to families back home

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Deployments are tough for military families. That’s why one organization works to keep those fighting overseas connected with their loved ones at home.

“I’m a first time mom, so being a deployed sailor is very difficult,” said Master at Arms Third Class Petty Officer Yashidi Gonzelez. “This program helps me stay connected and have a piece of home with me.”

United Through Reading is a program that works with the military by giving service members the opportunity to record themselves reading books to loved ones.

Samantha Hagan Lingad, Director of Operations and Programs for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard of the East Coast, says United Through Reading was founded 28 years ago by a military spouse who noticed her young child did not know who her father was when he came home from deployment.

Hagan Lingad says service members go to a United Through Reading location, select a book to read, record themselves reading and then send the DVD and book home. She says they supply books to all branches of the military throughout the world and on carriers, like the USS George H.W. Bush, where thousands are on board are always in need of books.

“You’re going to have a very wide range of book selection. We do our best to keep them supplied,” said Hagan Lingad.

Religious Programs Specialist Senior Chief Terence Newton is the coordinator on board the USS George H.W. Bush. He says being a part of the program for 15 years is heartwarming because he’s able to see how families use it.

“One month we had as many as 400 people record for their children. It’s record setting for us,” he said.

Lt. Bobby Dixon, who’s also deployed, says being able to record and read to his young children allows them to keep up daily activities.

“My wife will play it right before bedtime to keep that tradition up of reading that bedtime story,” he said.

Hagan Lingad says the organization works with donors and spouse groups to get books aboard and that new books will be sent to the USS George H.W. Bush this month, but others can also help. To learn more about how you can contribute, go online.