Reserve Airman goes from running for his life to running for freedom

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jake Chappelle
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Most U.S. teenagers who rebel against their parents, share a sibling rivalry, complain about their living conditions, or whine about the "slow" Internet connection on their smartphone haven't met Dominic Luka.

In the late 1990s, he lost his father in the civil war between the central Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army. Then he lost two of his brothers, a sister, and stepmother due to illness. Luka didn't simply face these tragedies--he was 11 when they struck.

Las Vegas odds makers and Wall Street brokers couldn't have predicted this "Lost Boy" of the Sudan would end up enlisting into the Air Force Reserve.

"I feel like I made the right decision to be (in the Reserve), learning a lot of different things every time--giving back to this great country--great nation," Luka, now 28, said. "I always wanted to do something in the service."

The airman first class only recently raised his right hand after he and his wife, Laura, moved to Oregon, in 2012--but there were a couple of events, which took Luka from sprinting from his native home to rest in a new one.

An altar boy during the civil war, Luka was one of thousands of Sudan Lost Boys, who were evacuated to a Kenyan refugee camp in 1997, which would fill in as his home, and the boys as his family--until faith arrived.

A German nun, Sister Louise undertook a role as the Lost Boys' caregiver. One day, she gave the boys the chance of a lifetime--the chance to "live." She had them write several letters to various embassies, requesting the opportunity visit the countries so they could be made whole, and escape the lives of deterioration as refugees.

"I got a call from the U.S. Embassy, and passed my interviews," Luka said. "In May 2001, I came to the U.S."

Luka's first step into American society was in New York City. He admitted the U.S. provided a newly furbished track, which was foreign for him.

"I got to the U.S. and was culture shocked," Luka said. "Everything was different. I had a hard time adjusting to life in the U.S."

But before taking a breather in the city that never sleeps, Luka found a place he could call "home," and a married couple he could call "family."

"The Rogers' family picked me up as a foster child when I was 16," Luka said. "They're a great family and I had a great time living with them. They provided help and resources for helping me through high school and college."

Luka began his American education as a high-school freshman. Due to his age, he jumped 10th grade and became a junior the following year. He admits, he had a lot on his plate with school work, in addition to participating in varsity cross country and track & field. But after catching up with his academic work and excelling in sports, the track star's work and training paid off. In fact, his grades and athletic prowess earned him a full scholarship to run at Norfolk State University, Va.

Luka completed the next race by earning a bachelor's degree in Management Information Systems. However, Luka said, after graduation, he didn't have much energy, so he dashed to his family in New York until he could replenish.

"I graduated from college, and went back to New York, and helped my foster parents in the house-flipping business while I looked for a job."

Luka caught his second wind, on a family vacation in Key West, Fla., when he met Laura for the first time. They hit it off, and kept each other in sight when he was in New York, he said.

"I kinda felt like we knew each other for a long time," Luka said.

After visiting each other in New York and Key West, they dropped in on Laura's family in California--and got engaged.

Before they broke out the champagne, the newlyweds jaunted to Oregon, where Laura went to school--and where they made their home. He said at that point, he chose to go for a career in the military--he said the Air Force seemed like the right choice.

Luka may be leaving a vapor trail, but hasn't forgotten about the people who helped him get a running start. He was able to reconnect with the rest of his African family in 2005, and update his New York parents with his achievements.

He is attending Air Force Basic Military Training at Joint Base Lackland, Texas. When he completes Personnel training at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. in March 2014, he'll start a new long-distance event--running with the 446th Force Support Squadron.