Soldiers with the Louisiana National Guard’s 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), recently took time from their training schedule to participate in the “United through Reading” program offered at the United Services Organization at Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
Soldiers read a book of their choice as it was recorded onto DVD and sent home, along with the book and a personal note, to the family member of their choice. After receiving the surprise package, family members are encouraged to read along as they are able watch and hear their Soldier read the book, which assists in bridging the distance in miles.
The USO joined with “United through Reading” in order to provide Soldiers with visual communication for families in the states who are separated by deployment, according to USO employee Malcolm G. Mason. “USO employees and volunteers assist the Soldiers in selecting a book and then provide guidance on creating a well-rounded video experience,” he explained. “The Soldiers are allowed 18 minutes of recording time and they are encouraged to add a personal note to their family members back home.”
After the process has been completed, Mason indicated that the book and accompanying DVD recording are placed in an envelope and mailed back home, at no expense to the Soldiers. Mason described the program as an effort to comfort Soldiers and provide them with an uplifting experience to reassure their families back home. “The bottom line is all about opportunities at the USO to boost the morale of Troops in having a positive experience at this particular point in their life and sending it homebound,” Mason added.
“I couldn’t believe they had my daughter’s favorite book,” said Sgt. 1st class Gwen J. Haliburton, of Pineville, as she found her selection out of the many books available. Haliburton, assigned to the 256th’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 199th Garrison Command, ultimately chose to read “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” by Bill Martin, Jr., and John Archambault to her three-year-old daughter, Delana, who is back home in Louisiana.
“I am going to read a book to my wife, Victoria,” stated Pollock native Sgt. 1st Class Ernie L. Vallery, with the Brigade Special Troops Battalion, as Mason helped the Soldier prepare to record his DVD video. Both Soldiers are deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom along with more than 3,000 other soldiers from the 256th IBCT.
According to Mason, the Camp Buehring, Kuwiat, USO is the busiest location in the world, sending home 1,700 to 2,000 service member “United Through Reading” DVDs each month. Worldwide, more than 36,000 DVDs have been sent to Troops’ families since the program was incorporated in 2006.
The USO has assisted in the morale of service members for more than 68 years and provides services such as telephone and internet services, video games, television and movies; all free-of-charge for traveling or deployed Troops. It is manned by a network of employees and volunteers, along with corporate and individual donors from the American public. For more information on the mission of the USO, and how you can get involved, visit www.USO.org.