USO's Stone Helps Troops, Families Unite Through Reading
Monday, December 20, 2010
It's not surprising that Bettie Stone shrinks from speaking about herself. Most USO volunteers bristle when asked about the importance of their work, saying their contributions are dwarfed by the sacrifices made and the deeds performed by the armed forces' men and women whom they serve.
But for Bettie, it's even more appropriate since she lets the troops do all of the talking.
Bettie joined the USO in Feb. 2009 and was stationed at Camp Virginia, Kuwait. After 14 months, she transferred to Balad, Iraq, where she rejoined several of her Camp Virginia coworkers. At both stops, Bettie has been associated with the United Through Reading®'s military program, where deployed service men and women are videotaped reading books to their children back home. The family receives a DVD of the reading and the book that was read.
"It's really fun to be a part of this amazing program," Bettie emailed from Balad. "My role with UTR is to be an efficient administrator and deliver the program to as many service members as possible. It's been exciting to expand our program, both on base and outside the wire to outlying FOBs [Forward Operating Bases]."
The job is also an emotional one that provides great personal fulfillment for Bettie. She recounted one of her more moving experiences:
"I escorted a young man into the reading room and explained how to get started, then closed the door. A bit later, he opened the door and I asked if he was finished recording. He choked up a bit and said he wasn't able to get started yet. Every day, experiences are shared and stories told that make me very teary-eyed. It is so sweet talking to the readers and seeing just how much they love their children."
To put her impact into perspective, then-Camp Virginia center manager and current Balad center manager Steve Murray wrote that the Camp Virginia center was averaging 40 United Through Reading® recordings per month before Bettie began guiding the operation. After her arrival, from June-Dec. 2009, the center processed 3,021 readers and sent home 5,156 books. "I will always remember her first book order," Steve wrote in an email. "She asked for 300 books from [duty manager] Christine [Gunderson]. Christine's response was, 'Are you giving the books away?'…We sent 1000 books to children two months later."
Steve, Bettie and Christine then headed to Balad and since May 2010, when Bettie took over the United Through Reading® program, USO Balad has helped 5,778 readers and has sent home 9,697 books.
And while Bettie may fidget from the praise she is receiving, that does not stop her coworkers from lauding her.
Christine says that Bettie has taken the United Through Reading® mission to new heights – and locales – by getting the program out to FOBs, partnering with base chaplains and the Special Forces to deliver the program to the troops throughout northern Iraq and setting up an individual program in the Balad base's hospital.
"Bettie is continually striving to take this program to as many service members as we can and she wants to ensure they all have an opportunity to connect with their families. Her effort with this has touched so many families and I know each one of them would thank her if they could." Christine wrote via email.
For her work with United Through Reading®, Bettie flew from Iraq to La Jolla, Calif., last November to receive the organization's prestigious Angel Award.
LCDR Jay Choe, widower of 2009 Angel Award recipient Lt. Florence Choe, said upon presenting the award to Bettie at the 2010 Storybook Ball: "Bettie lives in a place surrounded by barbed wire and machine guns, living in a metal box and eating institutional food in heat of 120 degrees in the summer…Because this work, serving those who serve, is important."
Bettie said that she was very humbled by the award.
"The award honored my 'spirit of service and my unflagging efforts to provide United Through Reading® to our troops.' My work ethic to do the best job and knowing that I'm managing a very successful program was all the gratification I needed. So receiving the award was an immense honor and I'm very appreciative to those who applauded my work. They were much too kind with their works and actions."
And many soldiers would say the same of Bettie.
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United Through Reading®, a California-based nonprofit organization, has served over one million beneficiaries since1990. Since partnering with the USO in 2006, more than 145,000 books have been read at USOs worldwide, recorded, and enjoyed by families. A complete United Through Reading® location list is available and for more information, please visit www.unitedthroughreading.orgFacebook Fan of United Through Reading®http://www.facebook.com/pages/United-Through-Reading/124056526068.
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