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Read me!

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jiffy Seto
  • 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander
I grew up going to the library every week. However, it was not by choice. When I was eight years old, the Army relocated my family to Schweinfurt, West Germany. We chose to live off post to better experience the culture. Our small apartment lacked American-sized appliances, so we had to travel to the post laundry facility every weekend. Luckily for my sister and I, it was next to the post library.

Little did I know that the hours I spent in the library, instead of watching dirty clothes circle around, would pave the foundation for my success in life. We only had two British cable channels at home, so we checked out stacks of library books every week to entertain ourselves. Those weekly laundromat and library visits helped cultivate my passion for reading. Yet many Americans struggle to make regular reading a part of their daily habit.

When was the last time you read a book? Reading Facebook, Twitter, and text messages obviously do not count. A 2006 survey of 17,000 households by the National Endowment of the Arts found that less than half of American adults have read any literature in the past year - the lowest rate they have ever measured. They counted reading any form of literature - a book, a novel, short story or poem - in their survey. My wife and I argued if her passion for romance novels counts, and technically they do. Yet even with such a broad definition, reading is still in decline. Fewer Americans also read newspapers regularly. The Newspaper Association of America noted in August only 42.9 percent of adults accessed a newspaper in either print, electronic or website form down from a peak of 80.8 percent in 1964.

So what? Who cares? Why read? Reading improves vocabulary, expands knowledge, enriches cultural awareness and stimulates imagination. Airmen need to be proficient in reading. From Career Development Courses to professional military schools, reading is vital to a military career. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force's Professional Reading Program reinforces the importance of reading to understanding today's military challenges and the world we live in. While serving at the White House, I thought it was important to read Vice President Joe Biden's autobiography "Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics." One day someone at the White House asked me why the Vice President was traveling to Nantucket for Thanksgiving instead of someplace warmer. The Vice President's book details how his family started their family tradition of spending the holiday there beginning in 1975. Reading helps Airmen know their jobs better and their role in fulfilling the larger mission.

Reading not only helps you but your children as well to develop their minds and to spur creativity. Physicians founded "Reach Out and Read" in 1989 to promote childhood reading. The program gives out a free book at every well-child visit. The 436th Medical Group's participation in the program helps support our Airmen and their families. Studies show this simple intervention improves childhood reading rates. According to the program, parents are four times more likely to read books with their children after being given a book by their healthcare provider. At my daughter's recent checkup, she received "The Gingerbread Man." Not only did she request to read it over and over again, but it was a nice distraction when she had to get shots!

Reading is also a right we defend. Our country believes in the fundamental right to a free press, but also the right to read what the press produces. Oppressive societies make restricting a free press and a free exchange of ideas their first priority. Nazi Germany suppressed anyone expressing minority views. Modern-day China partially restricts the Internet to their citizens. Our deployments around the globe promote our values of liberty and freedom including the right to vote and the right to read. In his book, "Faith of My Fathers," U.S. Sen. John McCain detailed his five-and-a-half years spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. During his time in solitary confinement, he lamented not reading more books as a youth. He says in the book, "In prison, I fell in love with my country. I had loved her before then, but like most young people, my affection was little more than a simple appreciation for the comforts and privileges most Americans enjoyed and took for granted. It wasn't until I lost America for a time that I realized how much I loved her."

Reading has helped me become a better Airman, a better citizen and a better father. I don't think I need to worry about passing the importance of reading to my children. At the Child Development Center, my daughter takes field trips with her class to the base library and loves talking about all the books she read. She doesn't need the absence of a washer and dryer to find a love of books. I hope that you and your family can also discover the joy and importance of reading as much as we do.
Thanks for taking the time to read this!