By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD – Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno speaks in front of soldiers all the time. As the commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood, he's used to being in front of a crowd. He even led the 4th Infantry Division through Iraq from March 2003 to April 2004.

It takes a lot to intimidate this man. On Sunday, though, all it took was 100 elementary school children.

Odierno was the featured reader during the Military Child Education Coalition's "Tell Me A Story" presentation and said children are a different kind of audience than soldiers, because they will be more honest. They can be more judgmental and tough to please, he said.

The three-star general read, "More Than Anything Else," by Marie Bradby, a story about a young Booker T. Washington, who, more than anything else, wants to learn to read.

The book followed with this year's theme: Finding courage and resiliency through literature. Odierno said this was an important message because it teaches children the importance of reading.

It expands people's horizons, he said, and no matter what their background, being able to read makes everyone the same.

Odierno told the children that he used to read to his own kids and considered it a special time for him. Because his children are 20, 25 and 28 years old, it had been a while since their last story time. They probably wouldn't let him do it now, he joked.

This was the fourth event in the coalition's "Tell Me a Story" program. The first was last year when Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, then-Fort Hood commander, read "Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot." The reading was a success and Metz's wife, Pam, and Dee Thurman, wife of Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, visited other installations to show how the program could be initiated. Pam has also narrated during another story presentation.

The story-reading event was the brainchild of Mary M. Keller, executive director of the Military Child Education Coalition.

Military spouses get a lot of deployment support, Keller said, but she wanted to aid the entire family by helping children hone their academic skills during a difficult time.

The story program's mission is to empower military children by "using literature and their own stories in a way that fosters: skills for resilience, strong peer and parent connections, a sense of pride and accomplishment, and a caring community," according to information from the coalition.

Each book in the series had a theme that connects parents and their children, she said.

Most of the coalition's information is geared toward adults, said Stacye Parry, the "Tell Me a Story" coordinator. This event is one-of-a-kind because it is a special day for children.

After Odierno read the book aloud, children broke up into stations where they discussed the book with volunteers, most of whom are school counselors, and their parents.

The discussions focused on reading and being courageous, Parry said.

Each family received a copy of "More Than Anything Else," which was funded by the Fort Hood Officers' Wives Club and the coalition.

The group's next "Tell Me a Story" event is scheduled for January, Parry said, and will feature the book, "While You Were Away," by Eileen Spinelli.

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at

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