ABOARD USS CARL VINSON, At Sea (NNS) -- Every time a naval vessel leaves for deployment, thousands of young children are left behind waiting for their fathers and mothers to return home.
Many deployed parents aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) are making that wait easier, by participating in the Family Literacy Foundation's Uniting Through Reading (UTR) program.
This quality-of-life initiative enables Sailors and Marines to bridge the distance of deployment by reading children's books aloud on videotape. They then mail the tape and book back to their child, bringing the face of the deployed parent onto the television at home for face-to-face story time.
Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class (AW) Dana Pierson, father of a 3-year-old son, has been participating in UTR through two deployments aboard Carl Vinson. He said he appreciates not only reading to his child, but also the visual connection provided by the videotape.
"It's much better than a phone call," Pierson said. "Young kids don't respond as well on the phone. This way, kids actually get to see you and hear your voice. You can tell them how you feel, and they know who it's coming from."
Although a deployment means long working hours and compacted schedules for much of the crew, Chief Electronics Technician (SW/AW) Geoffrey Ormstrom, who has also participated in UTR for two deployments, always manages to find enough time to read to his 6-year-old granddaughter.
"Basically, there comes a time when you normally quit work and go to bed. Half the time I read when I go to bed anyway, so once in a while, I read for her instead of me," he said.
According to the Family Literacy Foundation, when Sailors take the time to read aloud on videotape, they not only ease their children's fears about their absence, they also show parental support for the spouse at home.
"The tapes have definitely impacted our family," said Kelly Pierson, wife of Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Pierson. "It helps my son understand that daddy is ok and still there. I appreciate that he takes time out of his schedule to do the tapes. My son thinks he is really talking to his dad when he gets his tapes, and that has helped him get through this difficult time."
Recognizing that his four kids, who range in age from 2-to-8-years-old, enjoy watching television, Lt. Cmdr. A.J. Reiss has sent more than eight hours worth of reading back to his children.
"We all know TV can be a babysitter," said Reiss. "But you can help your wife or husband out, because you're the babysitter -- and you're a good babysitter. It's no substitute for being there, but under the circumstances, it allows you to be present in your children's lives."
Founded in 1991, UTR has benefited more than 54,000 military families and is currently available on every deployed carrier strike group, amphibious ready group and expeditionary strike group in the fleet.
"Deployment doesn't only affect those who have volunteered for service," said program founder Betty Mohlenbrock. "It affects hundreds of thousands of children and spouses, as well. Our goal is to lessen the strain of separation, and increase bonding through the positive, educational experience that reading aloud provides."
Carl Vinson will return to her homeport of Bremerton, Wash., Sept. 19, following an eight-month deployment in the western Pacific.
For related news, visit the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn70.