By Jeff Crawley, Fort Sill CannoneerFebruary 13, 2009
As a noncommissioned officer, Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Cook is expected to be a role model for his Soldiers. Cook, who is a senior small group leader for the Basic NCO Course, lives the Army Values and instills them in his students at the Fort Sill NCO Academy.
Off post, Cook also promotes values, education and physical fitness to youth in the Fort Sill and Lawton community as a volunteer basketball coach. Since 1999, Cook has been volunteering 25 hours per week during the basketball season.
For his community service, Cook received a Volunteer Service Award from Maj. Gen. Peter Vangjel, commanding general of Fort Sill and the Fires Center of Excellence during a ceremony Jan. 30.
"It's great, it's outstanding," Cook said, referring to the award. "I love helping kids."
Cook coaches the Oklahoma Explosion, a team of 14 diverse, seventh grade boys, who play in tournaments on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit throughout the Midwest. The Explosion practice at MacArthur High School gym. They play an aggressive, fast game which prepares the boys for high school and college basketball, Cook said.
"Our vision is to get the kids in school (college) somewhere so the parents don't have to pay for it," Cook said. "We want them to go to school whether through basketball or not. School is the number one focus."
Cook, and a support staff of volunteers including parents, also teach the boys to develop life skills, such as self confidence and perseverance.
"If you set your mind to do something, you've got to stay behind it. There are going to be peaks and valleys," Cook tells his players. "You can't just quit because it doesn't go good. It means you have to work harder."
Cook is a good role model, said parent Chris Scott, whose stepson, Saige Herrera, 13, plays for the Explosion.
"He's a great coach and a great person because of the way he conducts himself," said Scott, who lives in Lawton. Cook managed the team very professionally during a recent tournament in Dallas, he said.
The players respond well to Cook, too, Scott said.
"He teaches us to play full-blown professional basketball," said player Austin Hogg, 14, who attends Elgin Elementary School.
Dashawn Wade, 13, a student at Tomlinson Middle School, said there were many things that he liked about Cook.
"He's teaching me how to fix my attitude," Wade said.
Volunteering has always been a big part of Cook's life. Before he enlisted in the Army in 1990, Cook coached a children's baseball team in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.
"We had nice facilities, but really no one to work with the kids," said Cook, who grew up in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area.
After getting off his job at an office supply company, Cook coached the team for a couple hours each evening.
The year before he volunteered the team won two games, Cook said.
"We take the same kids and the next year we finish second in the division winning 18 games," he said.
As a Soldier, Cook began volunteering about a dozen years ago as a football and soccer coach in the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs at Fort Stewart, Ga.
"With the rapid deployment at Fort Stewart volunteering is kind of tough, but you try to help the coaches if you're not coaching a team yourself," Cook said.
At the NCO Academy Cook is one of the top BNCOC instructors, said 1st Sgt. Stephen Browne, who is Cook's supervisor. He is professional and always puts his students first, he said. Cook has been recognized as Instructor of the Cycle four times since 2005.
Cook is knowledgeable on both light and heavy field artillery. He's especially adept on many of the new systems and he shares his knowledge with the other instructors, Browne said.
Cook said he enjoys volunteering and that he believes it is important for the adults who work in the basketball program to be examples.
"We're trying to keep the kids doing good, positive things and we try to be good role models, while keeping the kids fit," he said.