USS RONALD REAGAN, At Sea (NNS) -- Even though they are deployed thousands of miles away from home, hundreds of Sailors assigned to USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) are keeping in touch with their children through the "United for Reading" (UTR) program.
More than 700 Sailors have taken part in the program since Reagan departed San Diego Jan. 4 on its maiden deployment.
"We're coming up on two months of operation and have hundreds of smiling children that are the recipients of over 750 video recordings," said Lt. Chris Anderson, Reagan's program coordinator.
Sponsored by the Family Literacy Foundation, the program allows deployed Sailors to read books to their children on video tape or DVD, and then mail them back home. The goals of the program are to boost family morale and reinforce parental support for the spouse left at home, and ease fears by children about parental absence.
Anderson also said the program helps to strengthen the relationship between parents and children while teaching the joys of reading.
"The thing that makes this program very special is because of the interaction between the Sailor and their child back at home. It's the ability to bridge that gap, that distance from the separation of being deployed away from family members," said Anderson.
According to Anderson, his team of volunteers has made the program extremely easy for Reagan Sailors. First the Sailor selects a particular book from the ship's library. Then, when they are ready to make a recording, the Sailor signs up for a specific time slot at the recording location.
Volunteers assist Sailors in starting the video camera. The completed tape or DVD is given to the Sailor immediately after the session and can be easily mailed home using the special mailing envelopes provided by the Family Literacy Foundation.
"Now is the perfect time to participate in the UTR program," said Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class (AW) David Lopez, who volunteers as a camera operator for the program. "The DVDs and video tapes have always been free, but now that we are in the 5th Fleet area of operations, the mailing is free, as well."
According to Lopez, the program is not limited to only Sailors who have children.
"Even if you don't have children of your own, you can still participate in the program. You can read to your brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews or event the neighbor's kids if you like," said Lopez.
Lopez said the team of volunteers has also made it easy for all Sailors aboard Reagan, including shift workers, to participate.
"We are taping from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m., and again from 1 p.m. to 3 a.m. everyday," he said.
"I just sent my first session home for my son," said Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class (AW/SW) Shari Doyle. "He loved it, and it was more personal than e-mail because he could see who was talking to him."
According to Anderson, the program will continue throughout Reagan's current deployment.
"We're still going strong and offering a wide range of hours from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. every day," he said.
Reagan is currently deployed as part of a routine rotation of U.S. maritime forces is part of a routine rotation of U.S. maritime forces in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, as well as conducting Maritime Security Operations (MSO) in the region to establish a stable maritime environment and complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations.
Commissioned in 2003, Reagan is the Navy's newest Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
For related news, visit the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn76/.