In Afghanistan high morale can be as necessary, and useful as weapons. Morale is defined as the mental and emotional condition of an individual or group, with regard to the function or tasks at hand. Therefore, while one may have the capability to fight with low morale, one may not have the drive.

“I honestly believe morale is everything. Once you have that clear mind free of worries, and emotional problems, it’s easier to do your job,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class, Richard Mensah, a religious programmer for 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion. “When your morale is high, you can enjoy what you’re doing.”

In the months leading to 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion’s deployment to Afghanistan, Mensah discovered the United Through Reading program, which donated materials for Marines to make videos of themselves reading to their children.

During the video shoot, Mensah draped a camouflage blanket and tied it between two poles for a background, adjusted his tripod, and readied his video camera. “Just press the white button when you’re done,” said Mensah, before exiting to give the Marine privacy.

“When it was my turn I did all kinds of stuff for my daughter to make her laugh, said Cpl. James A. Pabey, a motor transport operator for 2nd CEB. “My wife and daughter watch it every time they miss me. I figured it was going to be like the phone. But as soon as I started reading the book to my daughter I started crying. We have phone and email but when they can actually see your face and expression, it brings their hopes up.”

Mensah opened the program to Marines who wanted to send videos to any of their loved ones, so that they could send other types of messages as well.

“There’s this song I wrote in boot camp that I used to sing to my wife, and I sang it to her in the video,” said Pabey, a Ponce, Puerto Rico native. “When I talked to her, she said it reminded her of memories, and made her cry.”

“This meant a lot,” said Cpl. Juan A. Blanco, a motor transport operator for 2nd CEB. “It was good to send one to my mom and daughter. They want to see your appearance, and if you look healthy. They said my daughter watched it five times. She likes the part where I give here a hug.”

Over the holiday season approximately 40 videos were done. What started as a way for Marines to read to their children had expanded into something bigger.

“I think the process has been a success. When the families get to see them, not just on the phone, they get a little bit of their presence around,” said Mensah, a Ghana native. “Most of our videos were done over the holidays. So it wasn’t just a morale boost for the Marines, but for their families too. It makes me happy to see Marines happy.”