“Ed and I actually met in a bar, one night in San Diego. I learned he was in the military, we exchanged phone numbers, and not too long after that, he invited me to go to a Navy ball. My family is Indian and the culture is such that my parents wanted me to marry an engineer or a doctor. Their perception of the military was it was for people who didn’t succeed academically to advance to earn a 4 year degree.
“I had no concept of military life. The night of the Navy ball, I decided I didn’t want to go and I told him I wasn’t really feeling well. I stayed home, he left the ball early and came over in his dress whites and brought soup and a movie. I knew in that moment that he was someone I didn’t want to let go. Randomly, my dad asked if I was dating anyone, and when I told him about my military man, he told me that really he just wanted me to be happy. They met him a few weeks later, and my dad told me about when he immigrated to the United States and he wrote letters to my mom, back in India. Her parents wanted her to marry someone more affluent, somebody rich and famous, but they were in love, and my dad saw that in my relationship, too.
“Ed deployed soon after and we had an email relationship. The more I learned about him, the more I liked him. He wanted me to know all about the military life. With all the acronyms and etiquette, he realized it was more of a culture than just a job, so he took me to pre-deployment briefs and gave me the 4-1-1 on life in the Navy. When he returned from deployment, we got engaged. We went to the church to speak with the pastor and got married a week later. It was one year, one month, one day after we had first met. We moved from San Diego to Monterey and then Rhode Island. We were married but I had just started graduate school, so he went to Rhode Island and I stayed in California. It was during that time that I first heard about United Through Reading. They’d given an emotional plea for volunteers and I loved the idea behind it — uniting families during deployment through the service member reading bedtime stories. United Through Reading would record the stories on video and would send the families a copy. It was before Skype, before FaceTime. It was such a special mission and I wanted to be a part of it. Even though we didn’t have children, I could imagine this as the ‘go to’ resource we would need when we had kids of our own.
“Ed deployed again when I was pregnant and came home just in time for the birth. We’d spent more time apart then we had together but we made it work! I finished grad school and I was looking for a new opportunity. I started as a program manager for a grant at a community college and I’ll be honest, I hated it. There was no camaraderie, no flexibility, and I wasn’t happy there. I wanted those things in a job. The Indian culture is such that your work becomes your lifestyle, with how you speak, your traditions, your passions. You see that in the military community, and I wanted to find a piece of it too, in my own career.
“I contacted United Through Reading, as I saw all of the things I was looking for there, when I volunteered for them. They had an opening in data management and I couldn’t wait to get started. As times have changed, so too has my job, and now I serve as the Director of Campaigns and Initiatives. It’s an incredible place to work. We all work virtually, but definitely as a team. The work and the people have truly become a part of our family. Seeing these brave and courageous men and women reading a children’s book to their loved ones left behind … My eyes are welling up even talking about it! I cry every time I watch a video. To hear these kids react; to know the unbreakable emotional connection between parents and their children … it’s indescribable. Long distance is always hard, but programs like United Through Reading help keep our military families strong. To be a part of it all is both humbling and rewarding.”
To learn more about United Through Reading, visit www.unitedthroughreading.org