ABOARD USS BATAAN -- A program originally designed to promote literacy among children is helping to make the separation of deployment a little easier for members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Deployments can mean long periods of separation for deployed family members and their loved ones, and can be even harder for those with children at home.
But the United Through Reading program is helping some Marines and Sailors from the 26th MEU stay in contact with their children in a very unique way.
Lieutenant Commander Ted L. Crandall, Chaplain for the 26th MEU, said the United Through Reading Program was founded as a children's literacy program.
"It was designed to encourage children to read by having their deployed parents read to them," he said.
Since its inception, the program has grown into another tool to help deployed service members and their families to communicate.
Religious Programs Specialist 1st Class (SW) Todd M. Jeffreys, United Through Reading coordinator for the MEU, said the program works so well because of its simplicity.
"It consists of the deployed member reading a book while being videotaped, then sending that video home," he said. "All we need are books, a camera, and DVDs."
Crandall said the program is extremely popular for the Marines and Sailors of the MEU. More than 150 service members participated during the first month of the unit's current deployment.
"The Marines love it," he said, "As soon as we post a sign-up sheet they fight to get to the head of the line because it fills up within an hour."
One list is posted per week, and Jeffreys conducts three sessions per week to videotape the service members reading books.
Crandall said he also encourages the person at home to photograph or record the child reading along and send those photos back to complete the communications loop.
The MEU has a selection of over 700 books for the service members to read, and Crandall said volunteers at home are collecting more.
"The [Key Volunteer Network] wives are collecting more books to send to the MEU," he said.
The program is good for everyone involved, both at home and deployed, Crandall said.
"It's a fantastic morale-booster for both the Marines and Sailors and their children," he stated.
The Marines participating in the program agreed with Crandall's views.
1st Lieutenant Jeffrey I. Studebaker, officer in charge, Transportation Support Detachment, Combat Logistics Battalion-26, said he had participated in the program once before while deployed to Iraq, and that he thought it was a great way to keep in touch with his family.
"It's a great program," he said. "It's a good way to connect with your kids even though you are thousands of miles away."
According to Studebaker, children aren't the only ones who benefit from the program.
"My wife liked the fact I could send something home, and she could see my face for a few minutes," he said.
The Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is comprised of the Command Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Rein.), Battalion Landing Team 2/2 and CLB-26, are currently underway during a routine, scheduled deployment which departed Camp Lejeune, N.C., January 6, 2007.
For more information on the MEU, including news, videos, and contact information, please visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.