Deployments, temporary duty or any variation of separation as a military family is undeniably hard, but reading is proving to be a useful tool in closing the distance gap.
Petty Officer 1st Class Rex Boblett executed orders to Bahrain for the second time, this time leaving his wife, Veronica Boblett, and four children in Massachusetts where they are deeply rooted into the community and school system. However, an aspect that is easing the pain of geo-baching is knowing he will be able to continue bonding with his children through story time.
“When we were first talking about him getting the unaccompanied orders to Bahrain, and explained to the kids that we’re not going again… even though they’re really sad he’s going to leave, the first thing they said is, ‘Can he do United Through Reading there?’” Veronica Boblett said. “So they want to know how often he is going to send them [books]. I think they are already starting to pick out some books that they’re looking for.”
United Through Reading is a nonprofit organization providing military families with a continued bonding experience through recordings of service members reading to their families back home. This month marks 30 years since its founder set out to strengthen the home front through the use of literature, and the organization continues to evolve its program using innovation and technology. It recently launched a mobile application that removes the lag time of sending recordings via traditional post.
The Bobletts first learned about United Through Reading in 2010 when Rex Boblett was about to deploy. They used it extensively amid other deployment countdown methods — like counting candy or daddy dolls — and it quickly became a family favorite because it brought him back into the home.
“Reading was such a big part of our life anyway,” Veronica Boblett said. “We always read bedtime stories; that was kind of our thing in the evening. All of us would just kind of gather together and do it. So this helped us continue bedtime stories with daddy while he was gone. And, the kids, of course, as soon as he pops up on the screen, they just light up. They get so excited.”
Even though Rex Boblett may be halfway around the world, the video recording of him reading to his children allows him to maintain his presence in the house and continue bonding with his children. And he’s not alone. Marine Sgt. David Simmons also bridged the gap using United Through Reading in 2018 when he sent his pregnant wife a recording.
“One day I was having an absolutely terrible day with work, and just life and having to deal with things alone,” said Simmons’s wife, Hannah. “I checked the mail and got this little envelope and it had his handwriting on it.”
After not speaking to her husband for a long stretch in addition to the added hormones of being pregnant, the deployment’s distance seemed never-ending. But when Hannah Simmons pushed play on the video and discovered her husband sending a positive message and reading to their unborn child, the distance shortened.
“When I saw my husband I just started crying because I was super pregnant and emotional,” she said.
The recording proved to be increasingly beneficial after their daughter’s birth, too. Even though David was still gone, their daughter was able to hear and get acquainted to her dad’s voice, and establish an important-to-them bedtime routine: reading together as a family.
“I think it’s just setting a good foundation for her to expand on,” Hannah Simmons said. “And that’s the moment where we get to sit down as a family before bedtime after we have a bath and get to experience the time with just us, without our phones, without the TV on.”
Like the Bobletts, the Simmonses are passing on their own love of reading and positive experiences from their own childhood.
“I loved always reading books and having story time with my family whenever I was a kid,” Sgt. Simmons said. “Even before I could read, they would read with me and I would just memorize the words and pretend like I was reading it. It always sparked my imagination and it made me have a big imagination today. I want to have that story time with her and have her imagination be as good as mine.”
Plus, Veronica Boblett has noticed how reading to her children has made each of them better able to communicate and excel in school. In fact, research shows that specific parenting-child interactions promote healthy development. Parenting practices associated with positive emotional, behavioral, cognitive and social child outcomes include shared book reading and routines, according to Parenting Matters, a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. United Through Reading empowers deployed parents to continue being part of these key day-to-day interactions, which also aids the parent who remains on the home front.
“I look at it that right now it’s keeping them connected during the separations when they are apart, and helps ease that time that we have to be apart because we don’t have the choice. But I also look at it that it’s something that the kids will have when they are older as well. To look back and remember those things with Dad,” Veronica Boblett said.
While the Simmonses do not have a looming deployment, they say that United Through Reading holds a special place in their hearts.
“I think it’s something that is important not only in the aspect of reading to your children,” Hannah Simmons said, “but the connection when you’re going through this tough time as a military family.”
David Simmons added, “It really helped keep our family close.
United Through Reading launched a new app earlier this year that allows service members to video record stories on mobile devices to be watched anytime during a military separation. Caregivers then receive the video link via email to view the video recordings online in their web browser or download to their PC, Mac or Android devices. For more information go to unitedthroughreading.org/app.