I knew what I was signing up for when I married my active-duty Army husband. At least, I thought I did. A whirlwind of exciting adventures, guaranteed travel around the country, and stories that would pass down to generations, just like the stories my grandmother (an Air Force bride) passed down to me.
While I wasn’t wrong per se (we have had incredible adventures, enjoyed cross-country moves, and, boy, will I have tales to tell the grandchildren!), there is a lot of loneliness from all of the separation. Trainings. TDYs. Geo-baching for school. Deployments. And what I was truly unprepared for: my children also having to endure these burdens. The mental and emotional strain of separation is spoken of frequently, but not often met with helpful and realistic tools to combat the solitary hardship that military spouses, children, and caregivers face.
United Through Reading (UTR) is a military-dedicated organization that has served families for over three decades. The brainchild of a military spouse reading specialist, UTR has allowed far-away service members to provide nightly bedtime stories (or daily anytime stories!) to their children back home.
Lisa McGrath, the 5-1 Cavalry Squadron senior SFRG advisor, has started a local UTR Story Station in Fort Wainwright, AK. “We have a United Through Reading recording Story Station set up where troopers can select a book, record reading the book in the UTR app, and have the option to keep the book,” says McGrath. The recording tool is also quite versatile among family dynamics. “We’ve had young service members who have made recordings for younger siblings [as well as] service members who have done recordings for their children.”
Providing this service and hosting monthly guest reading events for families, complete with a craft or activity, has been a delight for this exceptional military spouse. “It fills my cup, and it’s an opportunity to mentor young military families to foster creativity, imagination, and togetherness through reading aloud as a family,” says McGrath. This attitude encapsulates what UTR has striven to provide for military families over the decades.
Initially a service provided with a videotape and recorder, with technological advancements, reading as a family has evolved to DVDs, an app, and now a Mobile Story Station. The Mobile Story Station is a recording studio on wheels, ready to roll wherever military members are. The spacious van allows service members to hop into the back for a quick read wherever it is parked. The atmosphere is cozy, full of books and soft lighting overhead. This pocket library has a comfortable chair beckoning the reader once a book is chosen. A stand-alone camera is the only audience, so stage-fright jitters aren’t a worry!
The Mobile Story Station is an incredible tool for military families who deal with constant changes to home life. With the world diving into chaos and families facing unexpected deployments, storytime on demand is a balm of familiarity to an otherwise disrupted life. For children, it is comforting to hear their parent’s voice reading a favorite book, and it encourages reading interest and literacy. For the spouse holding down the fort, it provides a brief respite to being the only adult in the room, if only for a moment and if only through a recording. Deployments don’t guarantee access to communication, so being able to rely on recorded readings can alleviate some of the daily stress.
I may not have married into the military knowing everything this journey would have to offer. The adventures have proven difficult, the homesickness is ever-present, and the stories are still being woven. But I would do it all over again — and again, and again. With organizations like UTR that provide supportive tools during times of separation, I am reminded of how lucky we truly are to enjoy this life.Read comments