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Videotaping Helps Sailors Stay in Touch

March 18, 2003

ABOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (AP) _ For Petty Officer 1st Class Warren Williford and his 5-year-old daughter, separated by thousands of miles and events beyond their control, it’s story time.

``Hi Maddie, this is Daddy from the ship, and I’m going to read ``The Three Little Pigs″ for you,″ Williford says, blinking under the glare of the lights in the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s TV studio. ``Once upon a time, there were three little pigs: Poky, Lazy and Will.″

Williford reads, and for a time, he’s closer to Maddie, and to his wife, Marcy. The videotape of his reading will be sent home to Quitman, Ga., on the next supply plane _ a recorded hug and kiss for those far away.

After 1 1/2 months at sea, story time is quality time for members of the Roosevelt crew with small children. Without exception, they say the hardest part of awaiting orders in the eastern Mediterranean is not being able to do the mom and dad things with the kids _ chucking a football, baking cookies, tucking them in at bedtime.

Phone calls and e-mails to home help; sailors and airmen are allotted one hour on the computer and 20 minutes of phone time a day. Still, the littlest ones sometimes don’t understand why mom or dad are gone.

``She asks my wife if she’s going to let me die out here,″ says Williford, 33, tears welling as he claps the book shut. ``I hope that her seeing me on tape will make her feel better.″

Petty Officer 1st Class Rob Kerns of Atlanta, who records the tapes, says some break down on camera.

``I let them do whatever they want,″ he says. ``If they want to try again, that’s fine. If they want to continue and be emotional with their kids on tape, that’s fine too.″

Taping takes place on weekends on warships large enough for TV facilities, including the Roosevelt, the five other flattops deployed in the Mediterranean and the Gulf and some of the cruisers and destroyers accompanying them. Everything except postage is free; the Navy pays for the tape and the books are donated by volunteer groups.

It’s not like being home _ but it helps.

``I’ve heard reports of kids touching the TV and saying, ‘Daddy,’ ‘Mommy,’ after the tape is played,″ said Lt. John Oliveira of Boston, the Roosevelt’s public affairs officer.

Twelve people have signed up for tapings on this recent afternoon, among them Petty Officer 2nd Class Dawn Santiago, 24, of Norfolk, Va. She picks a Winnie the Pooh book for daughters Erika, 5, and Doris, 2.

``Mama’s here, and I’m going to read you a book,″ she says, smiling into the camera. ``Mama doesn’t know when she’s going to be home, but I’m going to read you a book every week.″

``Some bears hum, some bears snort, but Pooh bear is the snoring sort,″ Santiago reads. ``Bouncing higher than all the rest, is just the thing Tiggers do best.″

Shutting the book, she says: ``I hope you enjoyed that. Hope to see you guys soon. I love you.″

Her eyes mist as she talks about her family.

``I know that he’s going to start crying when he sees this tape,″ she said of her 25-year-old husband, Richard, who is taking care of the kids. ``Every time he talks to me on the phone, he cries.″

Erika ``just keeps on asking when I’m going to come home,″ Santiago said. ``She thinks every time I call that they’re going to pick me up to take me home.″

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