SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- For the first time since the program went to sea in the early 1990s, the founder of United Through Reading (UTR) returned to the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45), the first ship to host the reading program, April 24.
"I love this ship. It has been such an honor to come back to where it all began," said Betty Mohlenbrock, the founder of UTR, during her visit to Comstock in its homeport, San Diego.
Since Mohlenbrock founded UTR in 1989, Sailors, Marines and Soldiers have used UTR to ease the stress of separation by recording videos of themselves reading books for their kids back home.
"Looking at the military and separation being part of the lifestyle, I felt it was my mission and that I needed to try and figure out how to fix that," said Mohlenbrock.
Reading is very important to Mohlenbrock, a retired school teacher, who has emphasized reading and writing for several years.
Service members can be deployed thousands of miles away from their families for extended periods of time, but thanks to UTR, kids can see, hear and laugh with their loved ones while they are away.
"It began when we started recording Sailors reading stories at the USO [United Services Organization]," said Mohlenbrock. "Everyone who read was either about to deploy or already far away from home and we provided it every Saturday."
One day, Betty was approached by Sailors from Comstock and the tank landing ship USS Bristol County (LST 1198) to come onboard the ships to provide their service to the crew.
"When we went on the Comstock, a lot of Sailors wanted to read stories and it seemed to have been very popular so we realized we should send the program somehow, onboard the ship, with the Sailors on their upcoming deployment at the time so they can send videos home whenever they want," said Mohlenbrock.
Rear Adm. Frank Ponds and his wife Carol Ponds greeted Mohlenbrock on the pier before they toured the ship. Ponds was introduced to Mohlenbrock during the UTR 25th Anniversary Celebration and was inspired to reunite her with Comstock.
"This program has been phenomenal in bridging the tyranny of distance between Sailors, Marines, and their families during deployments," said Ponds.
Mohlenbrock toured Comstock with her husband, Bill Mohlenbrock, current UTR Chief Executive Officer Sally Ann Zoll, and UTR Navy West Program Manager Samantha Lingad. They were able to see where the program was run on the ship and received a ship tour from the commanding officer and crew.
"This program has done nothing but boost morale on the ship and make Sailors happy when they are out to sea away from their families," said Cmdr. Scott Tasin, Comstock's commanding officer.
According to Zoll, UTR is growing bigger and bigger every year.
"The Navy's deployments have been getting longer so these programs on our Navy ships are becoming more utilized," said Zoll. "Our mission is to keep families connected as much as possible."
The program is not only provided to active duty service members, but reservists as well.
"We open the program to any service member who may be away from their families from a couple of weeks to a year," said Zoll.
Today, UTR serves approximately 103,556 beneficiaries at over 157 recording locations around the world.
"We need to make our families a priority and we need to make reading a priority," said Mohlenbrock.
More than twenty-five years later, the concept has proven itself again and again. Service members are reading to their children on video from UTR sites around the world. More than two million mothers, fathers, and children have sustained family bonds and built literacy skills by reading stories together across long distances.