USO reading program available at McGregor Range
Ashley M. Alameda,
DoMaD Public Affairs:
MCGREGOR RANGE, N.M. – The Fort Bliss USO and staff of the Directorate of Mobilization and Deployment announce the opening of USO United Through Reading program at the McGregor Range Mayor’s Cell.
The program provides servicemembers with a book to read to their children and digitally record the Soldier reading the book onto a DVD. The book and DVD are then mailed to the servicemembers’s family back home. The program is designed to reduce the stress on children brought on by the separation from their deployed parent. It is also meant to promote literacy and bonding, which has been proven to increase when they are read aloud.
This service has always been available to Fort Bliss Soldiers at the USO locations on Chaffee Road at West Fort Bliss and at the FirstLight Federal Credit Union at East Fort Bliss. However, most units at McGregor Range Base Camp are National Guard and Reserve units conducting pre-deployment training. The Soldiers in these units do not have many opportunities to go to Fort Bliss to participate in the USO United Through Reading program. Sgt. Jacki Johnson, DoMaD chaplain’s assistant, who also volunteers for USO, noticed a need and requested to bring the program to mobilized servicemembers training at McGregor Range Base Camp.
With the guidance from her volunteer coordinator, Eva Gonzales, Johnson contacted East Fort Bliss USO’s center manager, Robert Medrano. Medrano also oversees USO in a Box at the Westbrook Training Area, which is part of McGregor Range. Medrano credited Johnson with revitalizing an idea that the USO already had taken into consideration. The original idea was to have volunteers from the USO go to McGregor periodically to provide the service for the mobilized Soldiers. The idea was presented to DoMaD’s command group; Col. Erik T. Judkins suggested making it a permanent service at the Mayor’s Cell, but USO could not provide the staff to operate it. Judkins offered the staff to provide the man power. Medrano was referred to Capt. Sergio R. Hands, officer in charge of the Mayor Cell. Having used the service before, Hands was on board.
“I believe it is a worthwhile experience … I did it for my daughter during my last mobilization,” he said.
Less than two months later, on Aug. 13, fliers were handed out to the commanders of the units currently mobilized at McGregor range. On Aug. 14, the Mayor’s Cell had their first customer. In one week they had nine Soldiers utilize the service, but according to Master Sgt. Anthony G. Manca, the Mayor’s Cell noncommissioned officer in charge, the population at McGregor Range is currently low. He expects the numbers to jump as more units deploy in the near future. Manca enjoys the result of the program.
“The benefit I get out of it is when they come out of the room all misty eyed. Then I know it really touched their heart,” he said.
The reading room is located at McGregor Range Mayor’s Cell in Bldg. 9511. Just like the Mayor’s Cell, the reading room never closes, which benefits Soldiers conducting pre-deployment training. The other USO locations offer this service on an appointment basis during duty hours, which can make using this resource difficult, even for active-duty Soldiers. The McGregor Mayor’s Cell gives mobilized servicemembers an easily accessible location with hours that give them more opportunity to sit and enjoy the process instead of rushing through, or not being able to go at all. According to Hands, 25 Soldiers have used the service since opening three weeks ago.
“It’s a success. We are pretty excited about it,” he said.
The United Through Reading Program, a nonprofit organization, was founded in 1989 by Betty J. Mohlenbrock. Mohlenbrock, a teacher and reading specialist at the time, was married to a flight surgeon and came up with the idea when her toddler did not recognize her dad after his deployment during the Vietnam War. The program grew and has locations throughout the country. In 2006, the organization paired with USO and is now offered in USO locations worldwide. The program has been used by more than 1.5 million families and has received multiple awards. The program is operated primarily using donations and volunteer service. Since its beginning, volunteers have contributed more than 290,000 hours.
To learn more, visit http://www.uso.org/united-through-reading.aspx.
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