CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- For Marines and Sailors deployed to Iraq, the bright, red glow of a camcorder's record light takes the place of a nightlight when they read bedtime stories to their children.
Through the Family Literacy Program, a deployed parent has the opportunity to be filmed while reading a book to their child. A mini-DVD, which can be viewed in any DVD player, is then sent to the child.
The program, a collaborative effort between I Marine Expeditionary Force chaplains, the Armed Services YMCA and the Walt Disney Company, provides resources to forward-deployed Marines and Sailors that will aid the positive promotion of literacy.
"One of the most difficult parts about being an active-duty Marine is being away from the children," said Annette L. Conway, organizer of the Family Literacy Program and wife of I MEF Commanding General Lt. Gen. James T. Conway. "The program allows mom or dad to parent, to laugh with the child and to continue to educate the child, even from half a world away. Seeing and hearing dad keeps his love visible."
Many Marines and Sailors with I MEF have access to phones, but when a family can see the deployed parent or husband with their own eyes, it gives a special assurance of their safety, said Sgt. Michael A. Urteaga, the I MEF Headquarters Group legal chief.
"I did this for my daughter's 10th birthday," said the 28-year-old Ventura, Calif., native. "Because of deployments and training I've missed five of her birthdays. Now I don't have to completely miss this one."
Urteaga said he plans on doing videos for his two other children, including his 6-month-old daughter, who will see her father's face for the first time through the program.
The program is currently available to all Marines deployed to Iraq with I MEF. Chaplains from 1st Force Service Support Group, 1st Marine Division, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and MHG are providing the necessary supplies needed to make the video greetings possible for their Marines and Sailors.
"It's a rewarding experience to be in a situation to have an impact on (a) Marine's morale and livelihood," said Petty Officer 1st Class Johnnie L. Boyd, the I MHG chaplain's assistant.
"I wish so much that we had had the technology to have the program for our kids," said Conway.
The Conway family, however, did something similar, and witnessed the first-hand results.
"Jim taped stories and animal sounds for our two year old and three month old," said Conway. "When Jim got home, Brandon knew all the animal sounds, and Scott recognized his dad by his voice."