By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Elijah G. Leinaar, USS Bataan Public Affairs
USS BATAAN, At Sea (NNS) -- Multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) officially kicked of the ship's United Through Reading (UTR) program with Bataan's executive officer recording a reading session for his daughter, May 3.
Capt. Erik Ross, along with other Sailors and Marines aboard Bataan, have been signing up and filling each available recording session to help them stay connected with their loved ones back home throughout the ship's current deployment to the Mediterranean Sea.
"UTR is a very successful program that has an established track record of being very meaningful to service members over the years," said Cmdr. Steven Souders, USS Bataan command chaplain. "One of the fundamental joys of parenting is being able to read a book with your children. When we are separated for deployment that joy doesn't have to end."
UTR was founded by the Family Literacy Foundation and has enabled thousands of deployed service members to read and record stories to their friends and family members, regardless of location. The reading is recorded directly to DVD and sent home to offer the recipient a few moments with their deployed love one.
"It's important for the crew to have the opportunity to stay connected with their families back home during deployments; UTR certainly helps with that," said Ross. "I enjoy being able to take some time and read to my kids as if I were home, and I know they enjoy being able pop in the DVD and spend time with dad—even if it's just a few minutes."
The program was designed to boost family morale and to help children and parents better cope with deployments.
"Staying in touch is so important, and this program does that," said Ship's Serviceman 1st Class (SW) Jose Gotay, a UTR participant. "I think my son will go up to our TV and hug it, and my daughter will pat my head on the TV and tell me it's alright."
Work rarely stops while underway, so having a chance to get away from the day-to-day requirements and spend some time dedicated to family can be a stress reliever.
"My children have the knowledge that even though I am far away from home, they're always in my thoughts, and they are always worth spending time with," said Religious Program Specialist 1st Class(SW) Lunar Odhiambo, USS Bataan UTR program coordinator. "UTR provides a meaningful opportunity for a powerful emotional connection that helps relieve the stress of separation by having a deployed parent."
There is no limit on how many times service members can participate during a deployment.
"I actually started recording myself reading before we got underway, so my kids will know … even though I may be anywhere in the world, that daddy still loves them," said Gotay.
Bataan's program has flourished during the last several deployments and is expected to continue to be a popular resource for Sailors, Marines and their families. UTR will continue for as long as the ship is deployed.
To find out more about United Through Reading, visit www.unitedthroughreading.org.