MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Twentynine Palms Elementary School students and their parents sat on a classroom floor, cross-legged, in a semi-circle around Sgt. Maj. Matthew B. Brookshire, installation sergeant major, as he read aloud to them during the most recent session of the “Tell Me a Story” program.
The program was launched by the Military Child Education Coalition in September 2005, and aims 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 the coalition’s website. This day’s book choice was “Night Catch” by Brenda Ehrmantraut, a book about how a deployed soldier uses Polaris, the North Star, to play a nightly game of catch with his son, who is at home halfway around the world. The pair uses this game to stay close throughout the long months separated.
“A Marine hugged his son goodbye and said, ‘I’ll miss you little guy’,” Brookshire read.
“Well, it actually says ‘soldier,’ but I’m saying Marine because that’s what I am and what, I’m sure, most of your parents are,” he said.
The children laughed at the occasional jokes punctuating the story’s reading.
“Before you climb in bed each night, find Polaris shining bright,” Brookshire read.
Illustrations from the book were projected onto one of the room’s open walls. The sergeant major sat on a couch, in his service “C” uniform, and read by the light of a small table lamp.
“How many of you have dads that have deployed?” Brookshire asked, pausing in the middle of the story.
Most of the children raised their hands.
Every child was given a copy of “Night Catch” to keep. They lined up so the sergeant major could write them a message and sign their books. They all signed his copy of the book in return, a memento of their day together.
Brookshire also stayed to answer any questions the kids had about what their parents do, and why, and how the Marine Corps works.
“I’ll board that plane and ask the crew to race that star right back to you,” Brookshire read.
He closed the book, smiled at the kids and said, “That was a great story.”