HELENA — Pvt. Seth Svennungsen of the 1-163rd Cavalry Regiment of the Montana Army National Guard missed the birth of his daughter last year by four days, thanks to basic training.
He missed six months of her first year and is heading to Iraq this month, in time to miss her 1st birthday.
But this time, his daughter will be able to hear his voice at bedtime, courtesy of a new program to distribute children’s books that record and replay the reader’s voice.
Operation “I Can Hear Daddy/Mommy” is the brainchild of Corie Mora, wife of 1st Sgt. Dennis Mora of the 1-163rd Cavalry Regiment of the Montana Army National Guard.
Three years ago, a friend of Corie’s lost her husband in Iraq two weeks before he was to return home, leaving behind two sons and a newly adopted girl. The friend urged Corie — a mother of three herself — to find ways for her kids to hear their father’s voice during his absence.
Corie came upon the recordable books, which use a memory chip to record a parent’s voice and then play it back when the pages are turned later.
“I thought, every soldier should have one of these if he has children,” she said.
Not quite three weeks ago, just in time for the upcoming deployment, she started a campaign to secure the hardcover books, which retail for around $30. Word spread, and Dave Simkins, owner of Leslie’s Hallmark stores in Great Falls and Helena, came through with a donation of some 50 books, with deep discounts on almost 200 more. Local businesses and individuals have donated around $5,000 to the cause, Mora said.
“Those of us with children know sometimes they just have to hear your voice,” she said.
The Moras would know. They have three kids, including a 7-month-old daughter, and the deployment will be the third for Dennis, who served in Bosnia in 2002 and Iraq in 2004 and 2005.
But for most of the unit, it’s the first deployment abroad.
Spc. Spring Smith said she’s waited 4-1/2 years to be deployed and is proud to be going. She picked up “All the Ways I Love You” and “The Night Before Christmas” for her 13-month-old boy, Owen, who will be in day care for the first time.
“He’s just now starting to run and enjoy life,” she said.
The daughter of Sgt. Kevin Stewart of Missoula was born about three weeks ago, and he, too, picked up a couple of books.
“I want her to know my voice when I get back,” he said.