Read the story originally published here.
By Matt Benedetti
TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan – U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael Cook is faced with a dilemma. After weighing the risks and benefits, the carpenter decides to make removable lids; ones that won’t drop and slam on small fingers.
To the kids at the Friends of Children Orphanage in Sokuluk, Kyrgyzstan, the Fort Worth, Texas, native is known as “Mr. Mike.” At the Transit Center, he is the U.S. Naval Forces Central Forward Headquarters lead chief petty officer of pay and travel who is deployed out of Naval Station Norfolk, Va.
Since arriving at the Transit Center in April for a year-long deployment, Cook has volunteered his off-duty time and energy to several community partnership projects, including the Friends of Children Orphanage.
The orphanage is home to more than 35 children ranging in age from 1 to 18 years old.
Cook, bespectacled with gray hair and a compassionate demeanor, plays the role of grandpa to the children, who have come a variety of backgrounds.
“My grandkids at home call me, ‘PaPaw’ and here I am, ‘Mr. Mike.’ I enjoy going to Friends of Children and being a grandpa to these kids,” Cook said.
“Back at home, my grandkids are always at my heels, watching me work. When I am working on a project at the orphanage, I have four or five kids watching and helping me the whole time. Sometimes it slows me down, but that is OK,” he said. “It is more important to give kids attention and make them feel special.”
Cook feels that building the kids’ self-esteem is equally as important as any construction project.
“These kids already struggle with feelings of worthlessness due to their history, but if they go to bed thinking that someone they respect believes they are special, it counts,” he said. “If you can change how they view themselves as they grow up, it might make a difference in their lives.”
Maj. Brian Miller, Transit Center Theater Security Cooperation division director of operations, is grateful for Cook’s work with at the Friends of Children Orphanage.
“The senior chief has been here since April and has volunteered on several projects with us. Though he is not attached to us organizationally, he is part of our family. The kids adore him at the orphanage and his has been a huge help,” said Miller, a native of Pickerington, Ohio, who is deployed from the Pentagon.
“We are impressed with his knowledge and compassion, and look forward to working with him until the end of his tour,” he said.
Cook is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Transit Center mission in this capacity.
“Maybe, years from now, the box we built will be gone but hopefully they remember that some American, ‘Mr. Mike,’ showed them love, attention and kindness,” Cook said.