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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center

"Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command"

Twentynine Palms, California
What I’ve Learned: Stephen Cook

By Cpl. Medina Ayala-Lo | Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms | August 3, 2017

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Twentynine Palms -- > I’m from Walla Walla, Washington. It’s a small town, I believe the population was 38,000 people when I was growing up.

> I have two brothers and one sister who I grew up with. I’m the oldest child and there isn’t exactly a huge difference in age between us.

> I grew up very close with my brother, who is right under me. My brother and I played a lot of sports and participated in a lot of after school activities, so the amount of time we spent at home was very limited.

> I played a year of football but my main sports were baseball and basketball up until my first year of high school. After that I ran track, which was probably the sport I was best at, but I enjoyed playing baseball the most.

> I got to play baseball with my brother and two of my cousins. The three of us were always on the same team. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money so a charitable program would pay for our gear. I started out as a pitcher then played as first base and pitcher. There was one year where we didn’t have a lot of fast runners so I was placed in the outfield and center field and that’s where I stayed.

> Besides my father and mother’s generation, every generation before them had a substantial amount of people who served in the military. My grandma was a military brat and even though she didn’t serve actively I would definitely consider her a military member because of the way she lived and conducted her life.

> Growing up, I was very close to my grandmother and grandfather. They had a homestead, so if we weren’t spending time in the trailer we spent it at the homestead. At the homestead they had livestock, small patches of fruit and vegetables, two apple trees, a bunch of chickens and llamas.

> It was absolutely wonderful. My most vibrant memories are from the homestead. I even got married there.

> My grandfather was a Marine. He served in the Vietnam War. While he was there he wrote two different types of letters whenever he wrote home. One was to his mom saying everything was fine and then one was to his dad explaining what was actually happening.

> My grandfather was a huge influence in my life. As a child I remember growing up sitting on his lap in the house at the homestead watching the history channel. I’m the oldest grandchild so I knew if I joined I would be the first to start the tradition back up. My grandparents were very patriotic so growing up it wasn’t until I was a bit older that I learned it wasn’t a requirement to join the military. When I found out that wasn’t true I still wanted to start the tradition back up and join the Marine Corps. As good of a person as my grandfather was, I figured if he joined it must’ve been a good place.

> I’ve been in the Corps for nearly 8 years and I would like to stay the full 20.

> I did take the [non commissioned officer] creed to heart and one specific part of that is to train the new and influence the old. I think my favorite thing about being a Marine is being able to do that.

> My favorite thing about the Marine Corps has changed many times, because of time and rank. Now, as a staff NCO I have to say the best thing in the Marine Corps for me is having an influence on both the new and the old Marines.

> On MarineNet there was a course that teaches you how to listen better. I would have to say that had a very huge impact on my life. A lot of it is quite obvious but I truly took it to heart and it had a very big impact on my life.

> The first thing I ask any of my Marines, regardless of rank, is what their hobbies are. Hobbies are my favorite thing. I am a huge advocate and I will lose much sleep over my hobbies. I like making things. If it’s make-able or breakable that’s my thing.

> I’ve got a 3D printer at home, which has really helped me out on a personal and Marine Corps level. I made a prosthetic arm for my little brother and I made an action figure of my previous [officer in charge] for his farewell gift. I got a photo of the front and side of his face and I modeled him on the computer then printed it off, and gave him his own action figure.

> What got me started in 3D printing was a remote controlled submarine with a live feed camera. You can’t get one for about $5,000 and I thought that was ridiculous so I decided to build my own. When I first started building it I was using the things that are in my house and it was getting very agitating. My first design had an old diaper dispenser as the main hull of the submarine. But then I designed one on the computer and bought the pieces for it. Altogether it cost just under 100 dollars. That cost included the battery pack, all of the controls and a little screen for it.

> I am part of the Warfighting Laboratory. I’ve attended events that present technology, I’ve gone to John Hopkins University’s applied physics lab and seen what they work on and got to talk to their robotics engineer. I’ve also talked to an individual who designed and created the rover that’s on Mars. I am absolutely humbled to be able to have that experience in a field that I have so much passion for.

> I also develop video games and apps. I attempted to make a cartoon but it was too time intensive for what I was already doing. Now I’m completing my first class for a degree in computer science and programming so I have the proof to back up my knowledge.

> I recently received an invoice for my CNC Mill, which allows me to use a computer for metal working. Once it arrives I'll be able to make things like mini V8 engines.

> The V8 engine I plan on making actually runs like a regular engine and you would expect it to have a high pitch to it because it’s smaller but it still has a low gurgle like a muscle car. I will be putting a V8 engine into a Batmobile and the mini-boat that my father and I are currently working on for my 4-year-old son.

> My step-dad, the person I call dad, made working with my hands a thing for me. We were always doing something. Whether it was working on, making or building vehicles.

> He worked at a chicken factory and on the weekends he would let me go to work with him. I think that’s where I got my work ethic from. Going to work with him and wanting to make him proud by showing him how good of a worker I could be.

> Besides one intro to computer science class, I don’t have any formal schooling in additive manufacturing. Most of my learning was through Youtube and google. I’m a strong believer that you can learn anything via those platforms. I’ve never done any work with metal but I’m learning now, buying the machine and making mini V8s.

> Hopefully in August I’ll be teaching a 3-day class to wounded warriors and medical staff about how 3D printing can better their lives including making their own prosthetics and on the medical side how to apply additive manufacturing to better their field.

> My hobbies are free. What I mean by that is when I want to work on something, I have the tools to do it so all I have to do is brush off the dust and then my brain starts going.

> We like to play musical instruments in my family. Playing musical instruments means something different to me than it does to others. Memorizing it is the key for me. I played the clarinet, the flute, the trombone, the harmonica and the piano. I also play a few songs on the violin but I can’t read the music.

> While making video games I make riffs, and background music. I absolutely love the free choice of being able to do what I would like to do.

> I don’t receive any monetary compensation for the things I create. I hope to have a maker’s shop that would allow me to help others bring their inventions to life. And for a reasonable price, just over the price of the materials.

> I love science. There’s a lot of it that is unknown and I think that’s what I like about it. Everyone’s an inventor. Whether they’ve thought about it or not if you sit down with someone and ask what would make their life better, they’ll come up with something.

> As I like to tell people, I may have all these things and technology is convenient, but it’s a thing. I’d be fine without it.

> My grandmother taught me not to value material things. As a child I remember leaving a parking lot with my grandmother and as we’re pulling out there was an individual asking for money. It was quite obvious what he was going to use that money for but my grandmother still pulled over and gave him all the money in her pocket. She told me it doesn’t matter what they are going to use it for, if they’re asking for it you always give help.

> My mom always taught us to leave things better than how we found them. We would go to rivers and swim in them but they were being closed down at a frequent rate because people weren’t cleaning up after themselves. So we’d go and she kept telling us to pick up other people’s trash and as kids we were pissed off. I understand now. It means a lot that my grandmother and mom instilled certain values in me.

> If I had to give advice to someone it would be, in the words of Joe Dirt, life’s a garden, dig it.
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