Friday, October 5, 2012

Books, instead of Bullets

Sunday Girls' Class
One of my earliest memories is from around the time I was in 2nd grade; laying on the living room floor trying to decipher "Snuffy Smith"; "Maybe you should stick to the other comics," I remember my Mom saying when I asked her what "'nuff" and "Revenuer" meant.
One of my favorite childhood pictures shows me and my brother Carl, when I was around five or six and him around one or two, sitting side-by-side in a dark lime-green easy chair with an upraised 1970's paisley pattern: me reading an open Dr Seuss book in my lap and Carl monkey-see/monkey-doing with a comic book in his.
Another Elementary School era memory is the many, many times me, Carl and Alex (another brother) sat on the floor next to the comic bookshelves of a local used bookstore while my parents browsed the dim-lit and dusty aisles of "grown-up" books. 
Dad usually gave us each a buck each to spend how we wanted - which meant the delicious dilemma of selecting and setting aside the best ones to take home while speed-read cramming as many others as possible. 
Most of the comics ranged from five cents to 25 so you could get quite a few  for a dollar - and if you were a conniving shyster like I was, you could get a few more by convincing one of your younger brothers to trade you his dimes for your nickels, since they were bigger, until your Dad found out and gave you a week or two of zero dinero to teach you a morality lesson. (I still think I was teaching an invaluable lesson on caveat emptor.)
What I'm getting at, is I come from a family of (voracious) readers and it is very difficult for me to imagine living life not having the delightful pleasure - nay, the necessity - of reading.
In Afghanistan, depending on what source you reference (I checked the Army, CIA and the UN), the literacy rate is around 35% - that's for males, females is about 10%. That means only one in three guys and one in TEN women can read or write their own names. 
Can you imagine? 
Here at Bagram, there is a group of volunteers who are doing what they can to make a positive difference to those ratios: The Cat In The Hat (CITH) Language Arts Center
The CITH mission: "To empower the children of the Bagram and Parwan Provinces of Afghanistan by providing a nurturing, safe learning environment in which they are not only educated, but inspired to bring change to the country as the pioneers and stakeholders of its prosperity. Our efforts support the COIN [COunter INsurgency - meaning, countering the propaganda of the Taliban such as: 'Americans are evil conquering invaders'] effort in Bagram by showing the local Afghan population that the tenants of Bagram Airfield are supporting and caring for their children while providing the tools for innovation that will slowly matriculate into change for the well-being of all.
The CITH is 100% volunteer and about 99% of them are military - Army, Navy and Air Force (probably Marines, I just haven't seen any - and I am doing my very best to not make any jokes regarding leatherneck literacy) - spending their very, very limited free time to run the program, teach, tutor, paint walls (with illustrations from, who else, Dr Seuss) sweep floors/take out the trash, etc.
I have been spending about five hours each Sunday for the past month or so volunteering and am forming a slowly growing bond with an eight-year old little girl named Krishma (she's second from the left.) 
And I got to tell you, I get all weepy inside sometimes at her obvious desire to learn and do well - her high-pitched little bird voice as we go over numbers, "Wun, doo, tree..", gets me every time.
I honestly look forward to Sunday all week long - it is the absolute highlight of my week. My roommate, who recently joined me, best described the feeling I get when he said he feels "absolutely cleansed and refreshed" after the classes. 
Which are held on Tuesdays and Sundays; about twenty boys and twenty girls, each in separate classes/time periods both days - twenty kids is about all that can fit into the classroom at one time.  On Tuesdays the kids are from the community right outside Bagram Air Field and on Sundays the two classes get bussed in from Kabul for a current total of about 80-kids each week. 
I say 'current', because CITH is looking to expand to include a Thursday class for an additional twenty boys and twenty girls.
Since it is all a volunteer effort and not an "official" endeavor, there is zero financing from the Military with every item of school supplies, from erasers to laptops, from crayons to backpacks, all being donated. The money ($400 a month - a Fortune!) paid to the local bus driver who picks up the kids from Kabul and brings them to the gate, comes from internal fund raising. 
Now, I know you are thinking, "Gee, SGT Corbin, what can I do to help support the CITH?"
Well, I'm glad you asked. 
You can send an email to and ask for more details.
Or, you can send some cash and, depending on how much you give, you'll get a pretty unique commemorative coin or patch in return.
Or, if you are not comfortable sending cash, you can also send school supplies of any type; right now there is a Dire need for lined tablet paper but just about anything you might find in an elementary room classroom, such as small toys, books, pencils, crayons, tape, color books, flash cards, etc. will go to good use.
Where do you send the cash/stuff?
Easy: Cat in the Hat, Bagram AFG, APO AE 09354. 
Or you can click on the "Send a package to Corbinistan" link, on the upper right of this page under my helmeted mug, for my address and I will gladly deliver the items when I go on Sunday. 
AND, I will give you a much-coveted "Shoutout" right here on Corbinistan. 
For example, when I bid and won some Walt Disney comic books on eBay, once the seller found out I was ordering the comics for CITH (I'm not sure what he thought at first about a Soldier in Afghanistan bidding on "Donald and Daisy" comics), the most excellent SFC Brillhart 19D US Army Retired from Texas, not only refunded my money, in one package he sent twice as many comics as I "paid for" along with some small toys, and sent a second package with even more comics, cool toys and fun kid stuff. 
This past Sunday, after each class, as the kids filed out of the classroom, I handed them a comic book of their very own to take home and enjoy - I probably could have warned them about not wasting their money on ordering the "Amazing Sea Monkeys", but I figured I would wait until this Sunday. 
So, in summary:
I come from a family where growing-up, I distinctly remember the local bookstore calling my Mom to let her know there had been a new delivery of paperbacks.  When I was grounded to my room, I would have to be dragged away from my Collier Golden Encyclopedias to come to dinner.
I am a deployed Army Soldier who carries a large automatic weapon, with live rounds, that I will absolutely not hesitate for a moment to use if ordered or the situation requires. 
And, once a week, I have a wonderful volunteer opportunity where I get to focus on books, instead of bullets.
@ & Connor S. of Lewis Center, OH for the great packages with fruit gummis, beef jerky and Pringles.  I kept the beef jerky for myself but made several other Soldiers very happy as well.
@ &Catie D. of Westerville, OH.  I hope it won't be long before you get to sew your Girl Scout Silver Award for raising military awareness; the great snacks and treats you collected were greatly appreciated by the Soldiers who deliver mail and the ones who spend all day on Guard Duty.
@ & the May Family of Grove City, OH.  All the yummy stuff from your box was shared with the different groups in my work area with my "next door neighbor" calling dibs on all the Starburst.
@ Kara T. of Houston, TX.  Thank you for the letter and package - I had a couple of the granola bars for lunch and gave the coffee, crackers and candy to Soldiers who work in the supply warehouse.  I hope you and your husband you have a good time in NO but leave the cats at home; they can be real party animals.


  1. Thanks so much for volunteering! I have some friends building schools and educating kids out there as well. I came across blog on Any Solider. I will be sure to include school supplies when I send care package. I hope everyone one is doing well and staying safe. We're getting ready for ski season here in Telluride, CO.

    Best wishes,

    Elizabeth Marchini

    1. Elizabeth, Thank you for your kind note; the supply CITH is always short is the lined tablet paper; 80 kids times 2 or 3 sheets just about burns up a package pretty quickly. Anything you send is both greatly appreciated and shared widely. Best regards and have fun skiing; the only black diamonds here are First Sergeants!