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Coordinator Stories

MM1 Erik Brazzell’s Story, a UTR Active Duty Site Coordinator

In March of 2015 I deployed onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. This was my third deployment, but my first with kids. Everything was ready operationally, but planning for a deployment with children changed everything. My wife had to take on all the burdens while I was gone and I also had my children's wellbeing to be concerned with. UTR helped with both aspects as well as my mental health while deployed.

Every two weeks at the beginning of deployment I would take time to read a book to my kids with UTR. Towards the end I could not get a spot every two weeks due to the schedule filling up. Word of mouth and the longer we were away caused the program to go into full effect.

Reading to my kids while deployed was very emotional. At first it's hard not to tear up because it's really the only connection with them while at sea. Yeah, I can email and Facebook messenger my wife, but for my kids it's a totally different situation. The videos were the only way I could communicate with them! Deploying with such young kids was a major concern; fear of the homecoming reunion was always on my mind. However, upon return he ran up to me hugged me and was so glad I was home. Come to find out he had watched me read to him well over 100 times while I was deployed and it became an almost nightly occurrence to "read with daddy.”

With 16 years in the Navy and as a parent of two (our third is on the way) I can't think of a program that compares in its ability to maintain parent/child relationships while away for such long durations. It alleviates home stressors to allow me to perform my duties at my highest ability and allows my children to get updates on how I am and know I still think about them and love them.

— Erik Brazzell, Machinist Mate (Nuclear) 1st Class, USN

TSgt Janell Kershl’s Story, a UTR Active Duty Site Coordinator and Participant

I have been deployed several times around the world, and United Through Reading has not only helped me as a single mother but also many of our deployed members who have trouble keeping connected. The best thing about offering UTR at my command is the convenience that it offering allowing service members to remain on schedule and leave a unique gift behind. This program offers such a heartfelt gift to keep connection with all loved ones, including distant relatives.

One of the many benefits that I have seen specifically with UTR is academics. Many of the books we have in stock are a part of the summer reading program in our school systems. So deployer's are not only aiding their loved ones reading capabilities, they are also establishing a smoother reintegration by maintaining a visual and audio connection.

The significance UTR brings to our military families creates and supports a bond that will last forever. UTR is a part of the four pillars of deployment: predeployment, deployment, reintegration, and sustainment. Within each pillar UTR connects our families together and keeps them informed about the unknown and distance associated with a deployment.

— TSgt Janell R Kersh, Joint Base Andrews, United States Air Force