Their first child was just one month out, and everything was going according to plan for Air Force Staff Sergeant Charles (Chuck) Hubbell and his young wife, Melissa (Mel).
They were decorating the nursery in pastels at their home in Rapid City, South Dakota. They knew a little girl was on the way. Her name would be Madelynn Rae Hubbell—Maddy for short—and she was already a daddy’s girl. At night Chuck would read her stories and press gently on Mel’s belly. Maddy would push right back. It was their goodnight exchange.
Then the phone rang. It was the 28th Munitions Squadron—Chuck’s command. He was ordered to drop everything and deploy to the Middle East in just three weeks.
The news was a blow to the young family. In the four years the Hubbells had known each other, they’d only spent one Christmas together.
“This would be our third deployment as a couple,” said Mel, “so we were used to it. But this time it was different. Our family would be starting off without him.”
Less than a week before the baby was due, Chuck kissed his wife and pressed a soft goodbye on her tummy as he boarded a plane.
While on a layover at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, he stopped at the USO Center and recorded a message to his unborn child using United Through Reading’s Military Program.
The USO’s partnership with United Through Reading® gives active duty troops the opportunity to stay connected with their children. Troops read a book aloud while being recorded on DVD, then send the DVD and book to the child and family back home.
“In the last week before Maddy came along, I missed him so much,” said Mel. “When I couldn’t hear Chuck’s voice, I would play the recording. Maddy recognized his voice too.”
Thanks to a Skype connection, Chuck was there in the delivery room on the day his daughter came into the world last August. Doctors and nurses passed Chuck’s floating head around the room so the camera on Mel’s laptop could pick up the action.
But that wasn’t the only way Mel planned to share the memory with Chuck. She didn’t tell her husband, but when she received the United Through Reading® DVD in the mail, there was also a coupon inside for a free photo album.
Through a partnership with RocketLife, LLC, the USO Photo Book program gives military families a chance to build and send their loved one a free, soft-cover photo album, small enough to fit in a uniform cargo pocket.
Mel took pictures of everything—from Maddy’s short stay in the Intensive Care Unit to her first bath, first meal and first outfit—all with the USO Photo Book in mind.
“What seems like every day things to us—your child rolling over or trying a new food—aren’t so mundane to a new dad 5,000 miles away from his first born,” said Mel. “Every event is a huge deal. They want to know about these things. They want to be in the loop and show their buddies pictures.”
Mel created the book online in less than an hour. Two weeks later, Chuck was flipping through pictures of the newborn daughter he’d never seen. He took it with him everywhere. He showed everyone at his base in Qatar.
“Having pictures of my baby girl that I could look at any time… made my time apart from her so much easier to take,” said Chuck. “Technology is great, and while I was excited to be there on Skype with my wife through 15 hours of labor, that photo book put the icing on the cake.”
Staff Sgt. Hubbell returned from deployment in late February and met his daughter in person for the first time. She is now seven months old, and even though he sees her every day, he still carries his picture book with him everywhere he goes. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer