Commentary Magazine


Nonprofit Unites Military Families Through Reading

During my recent stints teaching classes for the U.S. Navy on aircraft carriers, I have learned more about the U.S. military than during my time at the Pentagon, where I was chained to a desk worrying more about font size (Donald Rumsfeld wanted 13 point Times) and running papers up and down the chain of command for signatures (printing out multiple copies for the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense who, invariably, would lose them).

The great thing about lecturing on carriers as opposed to teaching on army bases is that I can’t simply leave the classroom: I’m eating with the servicemen, hitting the gym with the servicemen, and watching movies with the servicemen. While Congressional delegations might visit a carrier for a day or two and have a pretty tight itinerary, once I have my teaching schedule and see when I’m committed and when I have down time—and having finally learned to navigate a Nimitz class carrier—I’m on my own and can just observe life.

It’s in this context that I came across “United Through Reading.” It’s truly an amazing program which does more than anything else I’ve seen to mitigate the separation that affects not only servicemen, but also their families. I’ve met officers who left newborn babies when they were just weeks old, and I’ve written before about the touching reunions between servicemen and their kids.

“United Through Reading” fills an important gap, however. Most ships, many forward operating bases, and many other facilities are now fitted with cameras in which moms and dads serving theiur country can read from a book they’ve brought from home, or pick a children’s book from the facility’s library, and read on video directly to their child. Usually, the chaplains from across the services and denominations will manage the children’s library which “United Through Reading” provides, and manage sign-ups for camera time. United Through Reading then will arrange for the various DVDs to be sent to each child’s home.

People whose sons and daughters were born when they were abroad will talk about how their children recognized their voices in a room full of crowded people because they had heard them read every night, even while they were away. For young kids, especially, it keeps the bond alive. For parents, it’s reassuring to know they can still read that bedtime story to their son or their little girl.

During the last decade of war, much of the press focus has been on the evolution of military tactics, especially the revival of counter-insurgency strategy. At the same time, however, it has been great to see how the military has evolved socially as well, and how the institution has grown even more attentive to the needs of young families. So many non-governmental organizations embrace a smug anti-military attitude, even though no group does more humanitarian relief and development than the military itself. Accordingly, it’s also good to see a non-profit develop to attend so well to our servicemen’s needs, so that they may concentrate on protecting our liberty.