Program lets parents read to children while deployed

Troops can record books onto CDs, DVDs

INDIANAPOLIS - A program is bringing families together during the holidays, even when one member is thousands of miles away.

A program called United Through Reading is allowing deployed parents to read to their children from far away.

Deployed troops can book time in reading rooms, pick out books and record DVDs and CDs that their children can play back at home.

Maj. Jim Staggers loves reading to his children before bed. A deployment to Kuwait last Christmas took him thousands of miles away from his family for nine months.

Thanks to the program, Staggers continued to read to his sons, Mitch, 6, and Ben, 9, every night.

"My youngest son, my wife told my son to wait until all three of them could sit down and watch the DVD together and read the book together. But he couldn't wait. He got his own little rocking chair, pulled it up to a portable DVD player, put the DVD in and started watching the video. The boys watched them religiously for four or five months in a row," Staggers said.

Despite the nine-hour time difference, Staggers was able to continue his family's bedtime routine. He said it made them feel like family even though he wasn’t there.

For the thousands of deployed troops that have used the United Through Reading program, it's the moments that, even on playback, make memories that will last a lifetime.  

"It meant a lot. It even meant more than Facebooking and Skyping and all those things because it just seemed more personal," Staggers said.

The program is free and the number of books that deployed troops can choose is unlimited.

The USO sets up the reading rooms at airports or bases that are final stops before deployments. The rooms are even set up overseas to look like cabins so troops can make new recordings during their deployments.

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