Easing Military Deployments with Technology & Volunteerism

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military woman reading book to children

Military deployments are hard.

Soldiers, sailors and airmen routinely leave on deployments in support of tough and often dangerous missions around the globe. No one questions the impact on the military member, but months away from home significantly impacts the families left behind, especially small children.

A unique national non-profit, United Through Reading (UTR), works to reduce the stress and anxiety this separation brings and keep families connected throughout deployment. UTR serves the 100,000 U.S. military parents that deploy each year, leaving 250,000 children at home.

Earlier this month, I joined a team of Dell volunteers from sales and the Dell Veterans and Supporters Employee Resource Group to support UTR and their “40 Million Stories” Campaign. By manning the UTR recording studio at the recent Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) Exposition in Washington, D.C., we were able to see first-hand how UTR records soldiers reading bedtime stories out-loud for their children to listen to while they’re away.

It’s a simple concept – with remarkable impact.

Through these stories on video, children see their parent’s face, hear their voice and follow along with the book. And as in many storybooks, magical things happen: Children’s anxieties fade, homecomings begin with children welcoming a familiar parent, and much more.

toddler sitting on floor with open book
“Volunteers are truly the heartbeat behind United Through Reading, allowing us to bring separated families together through stories.” – UTR CEO Sally Zoll, Ed.D. [Image source: UTR]
This recent volunteer work has special meaning for me. I’m a Navy submarine veteran. In the “old days” when I deployed, my wife was handed a stack of “family grams” – one piece of paper for each month I was away. She could craft a message, shorter than a tweet, which would reach me days or weeks after being radioed to the boat.

Since then, communications have improved – and technology has everything to do with this. But while some might think our cell phone and social media can easily keep separated families connected, UTR knows otherwise. Families and their service members are often disappointed by poor internet connection, insufficient bandwidth or an inability to sync family schedules.

With UTR and the video recordings they make possible, families are guaranteed special and uninterrupted time with their service member that can be viewed over and over again.

Technology plays a key role in recording these videos – and we donated Dell technology for UTR’s use during those AUSA exposition days. Dell laptops were used to: run the UTR software to register soldiers before their recordings, generate the recorded media and capture vital feedback from visitors through digital surveys.

As each soldier walked away from the booth with their recording on video (on a DVD or SD card) – and companion book – the Dell volunteers were hopeful that this small gesture may make separation a little more bearable.

Jessica Appelberg describes the challenges of separation in her blog on the UTR website. Appelberg is a military wife and stay-at-home mom to two kids.

“Sure, deployment is hard.  But when you add in a 14-month-old who is clinging to his Daddy’s neck and crying because he doesn’t understand why he has to say goodbye, it’s heartbreaking,” she says.

This is one example of what our military families are faced with. Appelberg goes on to say that while she didn’t know how her son would handle the situation, she could take comfort in her ability to show him videos of his daddy reading to him. Her husband recorded his UTR videos before his 6-month deployment.

Dell employees standing at a trade show booth
Volunteers from sales and the Dell Veterans and Supporters Employee Resource Group at the UTR recording studio at the Association of the U.S. Army Exposition.

Our Veterans and Supporters Employee Resource Group (ERG) is proud to support UTR. As one of 14 Dell ERGs, the Veterans and Supporters ERG has over 1,000 members and 11 chapters in the U.S. – and is dedicated to the hiring, mentoring and advancement of military veterans within Dell.

As we celebrate Veterans Day in the U.S. on Saturday, November 11, please take a moment to thank a Veteran and consider volunteer opportunities to support our veterans.

To learn more about UTR, visit their website.

This article shares one example of how Dell is committed to driving human progress by putting our technology and expertise to work where it can do the most good for people and the planet.  We call this our Legacy of Good.

Explore our FY17 Annual update on our 2020 Legacy of Good Plan at legacyodgood.dell.com.

And to learn more about how Dell employees support our military and veterans:

About the Author: Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a Senior Director within the Dell EMC Support and Deploy Services (SDS) organization. As the Federal Professional Services Lead, Brad is responsible for product deployment and residency support services for the Dell EMC Federal customer base. Additionally Brad has held several volunteer leadership positions with the Dell and EMC Veterans and Supporters ERG, currently serving on the National board and leading the Washington DC Metro Chapter of Veterans and Supporters. Brad is a 1992 graduate of the US Naval Academy and served in the Navy as a Nuclear Submarine Officer and Navy Diver. Brad lives in northern VA with wife Lori and their 2 children.
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