America Supports You: Soldiers in Iraq Unite With Families Through Reading
By Army Capt. Kathryn Rains
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Aug. 14, 2008 As deployments have remained consistent for soldiers and family members of the 4th Infantry Division, separation has been commonplace.
Army Pfc. Shannon Willingham, who hails from Pendleton, S.C., shows off the books she has read to children back home while on Camp Taji, Iraq, Aug. 12, 2008. Willingham serves in Multinational Division Baghdad as a supply clerk with the 4th Infantry Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. U.S. Army photo by Capt. Kathryn Rains, Multinational Division Baghdad
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
To aid in strengthening the separated families’ relationships, the nonprofit United through Reading program promotes the “read aloud” experience for separated families.
The program fosters communication between deployed soldiers and their children, siblings, nieces, nephews or those to whom they are a mentor.
“If we make a difference in one soldier’s life and possibly that of his or her children, we have been successful, but to impact so many soldiers and families is simply overwhelming and fills the heart with pride,” said Army Lt. Col. Steven Palmer, who hails from Las Vegas and serves in Multinational Division Baghdad as commander of the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade.
“This program has grown so large for us that nearly everyone feels the positive influence of this family interaction,” he said. “I cannot be more proud of our ministry team and the positive impact they have had on our daily mission.”
The support for this program throughout the battalion has been in keeping with the 4th Infantry Division’s motto, “Steadfast and Loyal.” A video of the deployed soldier reading a book, and the book, are mailed to the child. The child’s reaction is mailed in return to the soldier.
“It’s a wonderful blessing to be able read to my daughter on video, receive a video in return, and be able to watch her sit and follow along with the book,” said Army Staff Sgt. James Stanley, who hails from Troufdale, Ore., and serves as a personnel noncommissioned officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment. “It helps with the separation, and I get to help teach her to read at the same time.”
United through Reading’s nationally acclaimed programs provide opportunities for powerful emotional bonding to deployed servicemembers and their families. The program attempts to relieve the stress of separation by coordinating a book reading session between adult and child.
Chaplain (Capt.) Mark Olson, from Dayton, Tenn., who has six children of his own, offers soldiers this opportunity to communicate with their children not only by providing a reading room for soldiers to record in, but also by taking the program to the soldiers working on the flight line.
“Many soldiers do not have the time to come to our reading room, so we take our video camera and books to them,” Olson said. “The main idea for this program is simply to keep soldiers in touch with their families. The greatest reward, however, is the knowledge that someone back home will cry, smile, or laugh as they see their loved one in living color, live before them on TV.”
(Army Capt. Kathryn Rains serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade.)
(Editor’s Note: More information on groups and individuals supporting the troops can be found at www.AmericaSupportsYou.mil, the Web site of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, which connects citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.)