Athens resident Darrell Fawley IV, who is 5-years-old and known by his family as Dary, almost always needs a book read to him by his dad before he can fall asleep at night.
“I like when we read a new book and then Dary summarizes the plot,” said Darrell Fawley III, Dary’s father. “It is dedicated time together without electronics or anything else that we get, and books tend to lead to other conversations and can be great segues into important discussions and life lessons.”
While reading to children is an integral part of many families, there’s a twist in the Fawley family: Darrell Fawley III is a commander in the U.S. Army with 21 years of service and four separate deployments under his belt.
Despite his changes in duty stations and deployments, Fawley III has managed to encourage the love of reading that Dary has and foster important emotional connections through United Through Reading, a non-profit organization created to bring military families together through the sharing of stories.
“It was founded by a Navy spouse who believed in the power of reading,” said Sally Ann Zoll, CEO of United Through Reading that was created in 1989. “She saw sailors leaving to deploy for six to eight months, and she worried about what little children would think of those sailors when they came home…would they remember them because they were gone for too long?”
What began as sailors recording themselves reading books on VHS tapes for their children to follow, it quickly grew into the organization today, which has more than 2 million military families nationwide participating.
“What we have found over the years that there are so many different levels and layers to this,” Zoll said. “We started hearing from the service members who were away who said, ‘Wow, this was great because I was able to step aside from my mission and go to a quiet place and sit down and select the book to read to my child…It made me feel like I was really doing something to support my family.’”
Darrell Fawley III discovered the program during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2012 and initially sent videos to his niece. When Fawley and his wife Lindsey had Dary, Fawley was able to bring the impact directly to his own family unit.
“Sometimes you can’t connect through video or telephone for days,” Fawley III said. “Having a recorded book allows for a continued connection. I deployed (back to Afghanistan) when Dary was less than 2-years old, so having something to connect him to his father was a great way to ensure he remembered me when I came home.”
Fawley III additionally utilized United Through Reading during a deployment to Poland in 2020.
Today, Fawley III is a professor of military science at Ohio University at Athens and Dary is a big brother to 1-year-old LillyAnne Fawley, who also is beginning to enjoy reading.
“Darrell and I love to read a variety of different books, so we knew reading would be a big part of our lives as parents,” Lindsey Fawley said. “It has been wonderful to see the connection that reading together has given them, and when Darrell has to be away, Dary loves being able to hear his dad’s voice and try to follow along in the books on the recording as dad reads. I think that it will become even more important as Dary becomes more of an independent reader and more times of family separation occur.”