USS HOWARD, At Sea (NNS) -- Sailors stationed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Howard (DDG 83) are keeping in touch with loved ones back home through "United Through Reading," a voluntary program offered by the ship.
Howard Sailors are videotaped reading children's books aloud, the taped reading sessions are converted to DVDs and then sent to crew members' children, keeping families connected while at sea.
"I took part in organizing this program last year and I wanted to be a part of it again for this deployment," said Master-at-Arms 1st Class Walter Womack. "I set up a camera in a designated area where the Sailor can have some privacy. Each participant gets 30 minutes to read a book, tell a story or communicate to their loved ones however they want."
Seeing a loved one's face helps children with the bonding process, assures them that their loved ones are okay, and helps children learn the rhythm of their Sailor's voice, according to the United Through Reading Web site.
"The program is completely free," said Womack, who has two grandsons and a granddaughter. "We provide the DVD for the recording and we provide the material to mail it. I did a videotape last deployment and my grandchildren loved it. My grandson has been asking me when I'm going to send him another one and I'm looking forward to making that happen for him."
A Sailor plays a direct role in their child's education when reading aloud.
"Reading to children stimulates learning while we're away," said Lt. j.g. Robert Liberato, Howard's training officer. "The program tries to make sure the children have a familiar face reading to them to keep them thinking and connected intellectually and emotionally."
Liberato explained that communication with family increases the morale and personal welfare of deployed Sailors separated from loved ones.
"I think it's beneficial because we're away from our loved ones for such a long period of time, and to be able to communicate with your family through videotape really helps emotionally," said Navy Counselor 1st Class Kevin Goodman, Howard's command career counselor.
"I don't want my daughter to forget me, or anything about me," said Operations Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Lenoyf Collins. "With United Through Reading, I can make sure that my daughter sees my face and hears my voice letting her know that her daddy loves her and misses her every day."
Hundreds of DVDs are expected to be sent during the current deployment, according to program coordinators.
For more news from USS Ronald Reagan/Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn76/.