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In twist, Fort Drum families record videos of children reading to send to their deployed soldiers

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FORT DRUM — It was a special day of reading for Leann M. Wechsler and her 23-month-old daughter Lana-Ann, as they pored over “The Cat in the Hat.”

Lana-Ann wore the suit and red-and-white striped hat of the title character, which she first wore for Halloween, while her mother broke out her red shirt representing another character in the book, Thing 1.

As they read at the post’s United Service Organization building, a video camera recorded them — fidgets, snack breaks and all.

“I knew she wasn’t going to sit still,” Mrs. Wechsler said.

The finished DVD of their reading soon will be sent off to Capt. Michael Wechsler, who is serving with the 10th Mountain Division’s headquarters in eastern Afghanistan. On Halloween, Capt. Wechsler paired with his wife, dressing as Thing 2.

Monday’s reading event was a twist from the usual script of soldiers video recording themselves reading a book to send home to their children. It was the first time such an event had been organized by the post’s branch of the USO in connection with the national organization’s work with nonprofit United Through Reading.

“We thought it would be a great way to reach the parents,” said Stephanie R. McDonald, one of the event’s organizers. “They can watch it over and over.”

For soldiers thousands of miles away from their young children, she said, “they won’t get those moments back.”

Multiple Dr. Seuss books were available for reading to tie in with the famed author’s March 2 birthday, said fellow organizer DaraAnne B. Oliver, along with other child-appropriate titles.

Jacqwen E. Willis, who read the “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle with her son Colton, 2, only described the event to her husband, Sgt. Jonathan Willis, as a “surprise project.”

Mrs. Willis said her husband, of the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, and Colton often read together during Skype video calls. Among Colton’s favorites are “Curious George” books, one of which was the first book his father sent home from a deployment.

After the end of their reading, Colton kept close watch on the camera as it processed the finished recording.

“Hi, Daddy,” he told the non-recording camera, before moving toward his mother. “I just talked to Daddy.”

About five families made videos during the event, and a dozen soldiers stationed at the post also took advantage of the time to record videos for their children.

The reading programs will become more common, Mrs. McDonald and Mrs. Oliver said, with multiple events scheduled for evening Family Readiness Group meetings, where more school-aged children could get involved with their parents.

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