September 19, 2017

Devoted Dad

New and devoted Dad, Joseph McAtee, deployed when his daughter was just two weeks old. He shares his experience with us today, not only from the perspective of an Army Sergeant, but from a father far from home. When asked about  his family’s overall reaction to United Through Reading, Joseph said, “Recording a story onto DVD is a no brainer…it takes such a short time to make such a reusable resource.” He also said that by the fourth DVD he sent, his wife was able to put the DVDs on to play in different orders so the novelty didn’t wear off for their daughter. Isabella McAtee was 11 months old upon Joseph’s return and he was able to participate in her first birthday. He said that the DVDs were an obvious support during separation and his daughter was very happy to have him reading to her now that he has returned. Some Dr. Seuss books were used on DVD and she especially likes “The Eye Book” in person.

By Joseph McAtee

It was December, 2009.  I had just landed in Kuwait en route to my second deployment in Iraq.

The preparation cycle was the same as my first deployment in 2007: a couple of shots, get the legal docs in order, field exercises aplenty.  It’s old hat to those of us who had been through it before.  This time was, though, markedly different for me for one major reason – my wife had given birth to our first child two months prior.

Unlike my first deployment, in which I was concerned about my safety and that of the other Soldiers in my unit, this time I spent the entirety of my concern on my wife and my daughter and how I would reintegrate into a family that was changing without me.

I would return to a wife who had gone from being somewhat overwhelmed by the early challenges of motherhood to a wizard who could change a diaper in 4 seconds with one hand while ironing with the other, all the while talking (coherently) into a phone smashed between her ear and her shoulder.  It wasn’t that I was missing the early months of my child’s life and my wife’s adjustment to it; it’s that I wasn’t sure how I would be able to hop on a train that had left the station without me.  So during those few days in Kuwait, I came across a United Through Reading room in a USO hut and tried to slow that train down.

Over the next 10 months, United Through Reading helped send five DVDs to my wife and daughter, and they would watch them often.  It was the first service I had ever really taken advantage of during my time in the Army.

Joseph McAtee read titles to his daughter including "The Eye Book", "The ABC Book", "Mi Casa, My House" and "Moo Baa La La La".

Now that I’ve returned to the civilian world, I’m on the other side of the coin, working for the National Resource Directory.  A joint project between the Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs, the NRD has compiled nearly 14,000 resources (including United Through Reading) that connect Wounded Warriors, Service Members, Veterans, their families and caregivers with those who support them.  It’s a portal for the military community that lists resources across the country that provide services covering everything from financial assistance to education benefits and even employment resources.

I was fortunate enough to serve in an era when organizations like United Through Reading are providing opportunities to Service Members to stay connected to their families during times of physical separation.  Now, I’m fortunate to work on a project that serves those who protect us when that time of separation ends.

Right now, there’s a Soldier, a Sailor, a Marine or Airman who’s getting ready to head down range.  On his or her way, they might stop in a United Through Reading room and record a video.  They’ll know that there are organizations that are trying to help them, trying to lessen the hardships of deployment.  When they put the book down and when the camera is turned off, there’s still an organization that can pick up where United Through Reading left off.  The place to find that helping hand is the NRD.


United Through Reading is honored to be among the organizations listed in the National Resource Directory. We hope you will utilize it as well!

If you would like to share your United Through Reading story with us, please send an email to: or for details on how you can submit your story and photo. We’d love to hear from you.

“Night Catch”

We are delighted to share author Brenda Ehrmantraut’s blog with you today. Her appeal is widespread and includes the military community. When “Night Catch” was published it was a natural fit for us and our booklist. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Brenda numerous times and her sense of humor, creative view of the present and compassionate heart are so apparent.

OS1 Shawn Lane, Active Duty Coordinator on board USS Mason, reading "Night Catch" to his daughter, in front of their starry night backdrop.

This book blog has a little extra piece to it. One of our commands operating United Through Reading used “Night Catch” as an interactive family communication piece. The USS MASON had a great coordinator team of husband, Shawn Lane, active duty coordinator, and his wife Bobbi was the home- front coordinator.

Bobbi loved the book and developed a great activity. She created a starry night backdrop, cut out foam stars and sent them to the ship along with paper to trace and cut out the hand print of the Sailor parents who recorded “Night Catch”. The story could be read while sitting in front of the backdrop and then the parent traced their own hand, taped a foam star to it, and mailed it home with the DVD for their child to ‘catch’.

There were some great responses to the project, especially from some of Bobbi and Shawn’s own 4 children. Their toddler daughter tried to ‘High-5’ the hand! The son of another crew member would sit at their TV to watch Daddy while talking to him the whole time. He didn’t mind if Dad couldn’t answer, he held long one sided conversations.

I asked Bobbi if she wanted to share anything with Brenda, the author. She said, “Thank you for writing such a great book! It has such a good message and is a tool for the kids. We all see the sky and outside we can all see the same stars.”

Shawn and Bobbi appreciated the United Through Reading concept and program so much that they have already said they would be coordinators on a future deployment. Shawn said, “It was great to see so many of the crew participate, even those from visiting services.” The USS Mason also carried some Coasties as well as personnel from the Singapore Navy who also recorded stories for their children. Thanks to OS1 Lane, United Through Reading is international on many levels.

OS1 Shawn and Bobbi Lane's daughter feels close enough to touch her Dad during story time with "Night Catch".

Today we’ve asked Brenda to share some of the background to her motivation in writing the book as well as another story, “Hope Weavers”. We invite you to share your family’s Night Catch comments here in the blog too. Enjoy ~!



By Brenda Ehrmantraut

Isn’t it crazy the places our paths take us? I visualize myself standing on the outside of a window holding a copy of Night Catch. I knock on the window to get your attention and hold up the book. You look up, smile at me and wave me to the front door. “Come on in!” your lips read. “We’re so glad you’re here.”
You see, I don’t have any military experience myself. Yet you all seem like a family who has the guest room fluffed up and ready for me. Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how honored and humbled I am that military families and organizations such as United Through Reading have accepted Night Catch as the gift from the heart that it was written to be and are sharing it with others.

Seven years ago, when my brother received his deployment orders to serve in Iraq with his Army National Guard unit, I was terrified. I thought the National Guard did disaster relief and community service on weekends. I didn’t know they went to foreign countries for undisclosed missions. And I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that he would spend an entire year separated from his family. My heart ached for my brother parent to parent. And from that, Night Catch was born. I think that is why it resonates with so many people, despite the fact that I am not a military spouse as many guess that I am.

Visit the author's website at to order "Night Catch" and other titles by Brenda Ehrmantraut

In fact, I am a minister’s wife. But this has been a late career change for my husband. So I am now getting used to a life that has some of the same elements as yours: service, sacrifice and itinerancy. We know that “moving orders” will be part of our life. And I think this may be an area I will explore in writing soon. We have two school-age children and we moved them twice in two years. That’s fun, huh?

I might hit it with a sense of humor though. Because, frankly, some of the stuff that seems so doggone serious, is really just a blip on the screen. Take the haircut my son gave my daughter when they were six and almost three. When 12 inches of curly blond hair is laying on the floor and two gleeful children want you to be as proud as they are that they have managed to “make her a boy!” it’s just not that funny. But later, it really is. It’s snortin’ funny. The hair grew back and we’ve laughed about it for years. Please don’t judge me; don’t your preschoolers have access to scissors?
I started out talking about paths and ended up talking about scissors and that is exactly my point. I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but I never could have predicted that I would end up writing books for military families and longing – yes longing – to write more for them. It’s because the reception has been so warm, and the issues so relatable.

If you are interested in my other military title, it’s called Hope Weavers.

Themes of protection, reaching out to help others, and hopefulness make this another wonderful book by Brenda Ehrmantraut

It’s longer than Night Catch, but if you spend some time with it, you’ll find little surprises in the drawings by the amazingly talented Diana Magnuson who has illustrated, literally, a hundred books. Hope Weavers is a message for everyone about helping our fellow humans toward a brighter future. And keep an eye out for something on mobility, because I’ve got the bug to write it now. Go to my website http://www.bubblegumpress and send me a message. Tell me about moving, you, your kids and anything else you think will inspire me on this topic. Thanks!

Oh – if you’re in the mood for something funny that is all about typical kids and nothing about the military, check out my very first book, “I Want One Too!” If you have a little copycat in your house, you will quickly get the point of this sly sibling story.

And I’m excited to announce that Megan and Will, the beloved characters from “I Want One Too!” are appearing again in the upcoming title, “Me First!” due out this fall.
I hope you have as much fun reading the books as the illustrator, Robbie Short, and I have creating them.

Innovative Author Helps Connect Military Families

Today we are delighted to welcome author Jan Krystkowiak to our blog. Jan is a great friend and supporter of United Through Reading. Her book, You’re Never Far Away, is a customized children’s photo book that cleverly incorporates the child’s name into the story and photos with state of the art print technology, so that the child feels that his or her deployed loved one has personally written the book for them. Additionally, this year Jan will serve United Through Reading as the Chair of the 2011 Storybook Ball, our annual black tie gala and fundraiser to be held at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla on November 12th, 2011.

Written by Jan Krystkowiak

This morning, I am blogging from SUNNY Southern California. I will soon be in Salt Lake City permanently. Although I am not in the military, my life is as busy as a centipede shopping for shoes. Lots of shoes to fill and legs in every direction. I know all you military families can relate. 10 states in 14 years, 5 kids and 3 dogs! My husband, Larry is a former NBA player, who is now coaching. This year, he was working for the New Jersey Nets. He left for NJ Sept 1, came home for two days at Christmas, was offered the Head Coaching job at the University of Utah April 1, and flew directly to Salt Lake City. The Utes have joined the Pac-12 this year so it is a very exciting time to be a UTE. Currently we are in the process of “loading up the truck and moving FROM Beverly”.

Despite Larry having been absent the majority of this year, I am thankful that he is in a good place. He might be on the “FRONT LINES” taking “POP SHOTS” from the media, but he is for the most part safe and in the US. It is a far cry from what you military families experience. But I can RELATE to the absence and transient lifestyle for sure! For that, I am thankful for each and every one of our military members and their families for their service to our country. We are proud of you and will always support your missions. [Read more…]

As Close as the Moon

Captain Patrick McGrail, author of As Close as the Moon, wrote to us with this great experience from his family to yours.

Even with video chatting, emails and telephone calls, I struggled to find ways to stay connected to my family while I was gone. I was able to communicate with them almost daily but staying connected takes more than just chatting. It takes sharing something meaningful that somehow crosses the 7,000 miles between us in a tangible way. My sons and I shared the moon and every night I sent it across the sky with a story and my simple message to each of them.

As Close as the Moon is a story for families separated by miles but held together through memories and hope - and in memory of those who have not returned. We carry each of them in our hearts no matter the distance or time. ~Patrick McGrail

In the last hours before I left for the long war in Iraq, I stood beside my Wife’s car. I held each of my sons tight in my arms, kissed their faces and told them softly how much I loved them. I placed each one in the car, buckled them in and kissed them a final time. As I leaned in to kiss my wife, my Son Hollis said “I’m gonna miss you Dad”. “I will always be with you” I told him. “The moon you see every night is the same one I will be watching” I said. “Every night, when the moon passes overhead, I will tell the moon that I love you” I explained. “I am as close as the moon.”
It was the story of a man alone in the desert who spoke to the moon and of a son who listened for his father’s words when the moon floated overhead that held us together. I had shared that story with my sons almost every night as my deployment neared and it stayed with us while I was gone.

Not surprisingly, one of the first things I did when I arrived overseas was to take advantage of the United Through Reading program offered in the USO. The United Through Reading program kept us connected. From “Where the Wild Things Are” to “James and the Giant Peach”, my Sons were able to see me, hear me and hold the book that I had held almost forgetting we were so far apart.
I could almost feel my Sons in the small recording room with me when I read the books to the video camera. My sons all gathered on the couch each time a book arrived. They watched the video following along with the book and often watched it more than once. Bed time was still story time and Dad was, in a very tangible way, still connected, still home.