USS HALSEY, At Sea - Sailors aboard guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) are staying connected to family with United Through Reading (UTR) while on their western Pacific deployment.
"Our families back home are not going to see us for a long time," said Navy Counselor 1st Class Dominique Case, one of Halsey's Sailors who keeps in touch with her child by reading a book of her choice aloud on a DVD. "Reading aloud together allows us to bond despite separation; it gives them a chance to see our faces," Case said.
A non-profit organization, UTR recognizes the stress of separation for deployed service members and their children and provides the books, DVDs and mailing envelopes used to connect families. The books stay aboard the ship for other Sailors to read to their children, but the DVD is given to the Sailor to mail to their child.
"Even if it's just for an hour, it gives you the satisfaction of knowing you're still there helping to guide them through their lives," Case said of reading on camera. "It's very hard being away from my family, but UTR helps me feel connected."
When a child receives the DVD, he or she follows along with an identical book the spouse or care provider at home has purchased. Often the spouse or care provider will take photos of the child reading along and send them to their deployed Sailor. This way Sailors are able to see the reactions on their children's faces.
"This program is one of the best morale boosts we have out here," said Gas Turbine Systems Mechanical Fireman Vitolio Westerlund. "My daughter is used to seeing me everyday so me being away is new for her. This program is helping me to continue to be able to interact with her while deployed."
Halsey is currently on a scheduled western Pacific deployment as a part of Carrier Strike Group 1, along with Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52).