It's story time for deployed parents too!

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
When 4-year-old Ethan Hipp learned that his neighbor's dad had just returned from a deployment, he proudly said, "My daddy doesn't have to do that!"

But unfortunately for the Hipp family, his daddy, Staff Sgt. Eric Hipp from the 1st Special Operations Component Maintenance Squadron, was told he will be deploying.

"Now I have to tell him that, in fact, Daddy does have to go," Sergeant Hipp said. "For the first time, my son realizes I'm leaving. Luckily I can do something so that he can still see and hear me, and keep me near him and his brother Aiden."

Sergeant Hipp is referring to the USO's "United Through Reading" program. This program allows deploying parents to record themselves on a DVD reading a children's book to their children, which the USO then gives to the deployer's family, along with a copy of the book, when they depart.

"This is a permanent thing," said Kathy Karsten, USO program manager. "The children can go back and read the same book over and over again with their deployed parent. They get to hear mom or dad's voice and see them reading the same book."

Each disc is 20 minutes long, and if the book reading doesn't take the entire time, the deploying parent can fill the rest of the time with special messages just for their child. Parents can even record a different DVD for each child, so that every child has his or her very own book and DVD.

"We want to help keep families connected, and this reading program is something that is easy to do - and a lot of fun for the parents if you really get into the story!" Ms. Karsten said.

According to Ms. Karsten, this program is a blessing for many families with younger children.

"Skype and other online video methods are great, but they're fleeting: Mom or Dad is here one minute and gone the next," she said. "Photos show children who Mom or Dad is, but there isn't a voice to go along with it.

"My husband was in the Air Force, and my kids would have pictures of Daddy to keep when he was deployed," she said. "But when he got back they didn't want anything to do with him because they didn't really know him as 'Dad.'"

Staff Sgt. Jameson Thornton, 801st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, is beginning to understand this concern. His 2-year-old daughter, Vanessa, is at the age where Daddy being gone leaves a hole that can't be filled by anybody but Daddy. And Sergeant Thornton doesn't want to lose the special bond he has with his little girl.

"She's getting older, and we are very close," Sergeant Thornton said. "Vanessa will definitely know that Daddy isn't there. I want to keep us close even though I'm gone, and this program is even better than just having pictures of me around the house because she'll be able to see me and hear my voice."

Getting a United Through Reading DVD and book is fairly easy, said Ms. Karsten. "All you have to do is ask!

"We can even come to your unit if your unit is deploying a large group," Ms. Karsten said. "We know that the deployment process is hectic, with alternating fast and slow times. So if there is a unit deploying, and their members have a gap between all the briefings, then we can help them record these DVDs during the dead time."

Units interested in a visit by the USO United Through Reading team can contact the USO of Pensacola at (850) 455-8280, ext. 4, or email