KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Deployments, annual tour, exercises and training are a few military duties that can keep reservists away from their families for extended periods of time. This can be challenging for loved ones, but especially children.
One way to maintain those connections, make family bonds stronger and make reintegration upon one’s return home, is to use the United Through Reading program.
For 31 years the United Through Reading program has provided deployed service members an opportunity to be video recorded reading a storybook to their children at more than 200 UTR story locations worldwide. This just got more convenient as the service is now available through a free app, according to Tonya Wood, a military spouse of 12 years with two children, who works for UTR as their Yellow Ribbon program coordinator for the National Guard and Air National Guard and briefs at Air Force Reserve Command Yellow Ribbon events. The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program promotes the well-being of National Guard, Reserve members and their families and communities by connecting them with the resources they need throughout their deployment cycle.
She said she knows how difficult military life and separations can be and the impact it has on children. Her husband was active Army for 14 years before joining the Army Reserve two years ago. Her children, now 9 and 8, have experienced a deployment and other separations due to military commitments. She is not alone. Every year, more than 100,000 military parents deploy leaving nearly 250,000 children at home for up to six months or more, according to the UTR website.
Wood used the UTR program to help maintain those ties between her spouse and children, she said.
“If a child is really young, they may not always recognize their parent upon their return,” said Wood. “We have the technology today that makes it easier to keep in touch, but it’s not always reliable and available depending on the location, and young children don’t always have the attention spans to talk to the parent for an extended period of time. With access to Wi-Fi, anyone can use the UTR app to record a story that their child can listen to and watch any time and over and over again. This keeps their mom or dad fresh in their mind, and when the service member returns it helps with reintegration.
“United Through Reading can also help boost the morale and resilience of the servicemember and their children,” she said. “And, in the era of COVID and limited opportunities to interact with families and friends, this app can help family members stay in touch.”
In addition to improving family connections, reading to children starting at a young age is essential to their development, according to the Literacy Project.
Children’s academic successes at ages 9 and 10 can be attributed to the amount of talk they hear from birth through age 3, which can assist them with reading aptitude and can make life-lasting impacts through the power of reading, according to the Literacy Project.
Using the program is easy, said Wood. If recording at a UTR site, a book will be provided; however, servicemembers using the self-service feature, will either need to provide their own book, use one of the ebooks available in the app, or request a book to be sent to them through the UTR website. To get started, all one needs to do is log in to the UTR site and register with ID.me, “Troop ID,” grab a book from home, library or UTR Story Station, take a photo of the book’s cover and enter the title and description, and then read, record, save and share with selected recipients. Recordings can be uploaded to the cloud and then one can go to utrapp.org to log in and view the video.
The app is available on Google Play, and the Apple Store. For more information about the program and how to use the app, visit UTR.org/app, or for assistance, email firstname.lastname@example.org.