Parents aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) will have missed more than 180 bedtime stories when they return from their 2018 deployment.

United Through Reading is a program that allows Sailors and Marines to connect with their children when deployed for months on end.

Chief Aviation Structural Mechanic James Suddath is on his second deployment with the Iwo Jima and recorded himself reading “Sheep in a Jeep” for his five-year-old daughter, Jessika.

“When I’m home, I’m normally the one who puts the kids to bed,” said Suddath. “I’ll read my daughter a story, almost like I did there.”

“As a parent, they can’t physically be there for their family, but want to be a part of their children’s life,” said Machinist Mate 3rd Class Kathy Mejia, a United Through Reading facilitator. “They take this seriously and want to be a part of their child’s life no matter how far away they are.”

Not unlike a military child, the dandelion is resilient and capable of blooming almost anywhere it takes root. Reading their children a bedtime story over 5,000 miles away Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Gabriel Vazquez and Suddath teach the quintessential lesson of a dandelion, to their dandelions.

“We stay strong and keep the big picture in mind,” said Vazquez. “It gives me an opportunity to connect back with the family and get my daughter interested in reading.”

With more than half of their deployment completed, Sailors aboard Iwo Jima have stayed true to their duty, as have their families back at home.

“They are strong-willed and stay busy,” said Suddath. “Hopefully she [Jessika] hears my voice and still has that feeling of my being there, but I’ll be back soon.”

Iwo Jima is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners, and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region.

The Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group embarks the 26th MEU and is comprised of Iwo Jima (LHD 7), New York (LPD-21), the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), Fleet Surgical Team (FST) 4 and 8, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 22, components of Naval Beach Group (NBG) 2 and the embarked staff of commander, Amphibious Squadron 4.