How Military Families in Spain Are Staying Connected During the Holidays Through the USO Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program

By Kayla Clark

In these especially trying times, supporting our nation’s military is more critical than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life for all Americans, including service men and women around the world – and especially for those on duty during the holidays. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Navy ships could pull into port in Rota, Spain, and reach out to their loved ones via the USO while deployed during the holidays. However, this year, due to COVID-19 safety regulations, they cannot enter the USO center to utilize the free Wi-Fi and programs that normally allow them to connect back home. Already struggling with being far from family and friends during the holiday season, this inability to easily call home can take its toll on service members.

So, USO Rota got creative and found another way to deliver a bit of home to the sailors aboard a destroyer, the USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), during the holidays.

A Reverse Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program for the Holidays

One of the most popular programs the USO provides deployed service members is the USO Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program. Through this program, service members can select a book for their child, record themselves reading the book and the USO then sends the book and the recording home to the service member’s family. This way, deployed service members can still be a part of their child’s bedtime story routine, even when miles away.

It’s an incredible program that provides a heartfelt surprise to the military family waiting back home for their service member’s safe return during a challenging time. However, this year, the USO Rota team placed an innovative spin on the program and decided to instead deliver this connection to loved ones to the service member by recording videos of their families sharing heartfelt messages and holiday book readings. These recordings were then shared with their service members, who will be on patrol for the holiday season.

A military spouse and her newborn get ready to record a book reading for their service member. | Photo credit USO Photo

USO Rota partnered with the USS Donald Cook Family Readiness Group (FRG) and created a small, holiday studio for military families to come in and record a special message for their sailor, along with a reading of “The Night Before Christmas” and a special singing rendition of “Frosty the Snowman.”

“With all the challenges and changes this year has brought, the recordings will be a nice surprise of Christmas cheer for the sailors that aren’t able to spend the holidays at home,” said volunteer Jennifer Anderson, who is also a USS Donald Cook spouse herself.

Anderson volunteered to help facilitate the event that day “because as a USS Donald Cook spouse, it’s important for me to do what I can to spread cheer throughout the ship. The ability to bring joy to all members of our community is the main reason why I chose to, and enjoy, volunteering with USO Rota.”

The event was filled with laughter, holiday cheer and love, as families showed up in little sparkly red shoes, elf costumes, ugly Christmas sweaters and more to share their warm wishes to their mom or dad who is away for the holidays.

“When I was a sailor, the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program was something really cool they did on the ship,” USS Donald Cook spouse and veteran Phylicia Hansen-Stitzel said. “For my family, Christmas was huge and my first deployment away during the holidays, I was really missing home. We’re really big bookworms, so I made a video for my nephews and it meant so much to them, and to me. So I came today to participate on the other side because reading is a nightly routine for my family, and I want my husband to feel a part of it and to still be present in what he’s missing when he’s away.”

While these families can’t be together during the holiday season, there was surely a spark of Christmas magic there that day that will be felt by their sailors across the sea as they continue to make these kinds of sacrifices for the support of our freedom.

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