Dominic Luka demonstrates the proper pushup position for his flight mates during physical training at basic military training at Joint Base San Antonio. He said being older helps him mentor other cadets. (Joshua Rodriguez/Air Force)
Dominic Luka boarded a plane for the first time May 22, 2001. He was 16. He remembers his excitement traveling from Kenya to the U.S. Although he knew where the plane would touch down, he didn’t know where this journey would take him after that.
Twelve years later, Luka entered Air Force basic military training at Joint Base San Antonio. After he graduates Jan. 18 and completes technical training in personnelat Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., in March, he will be assigned to the Air Force Reserve’s 446th Force Support Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Luka, born in south-central Sudan, is considered one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” a term given to the groups of more than 20,000 young boys who were displaced or orphaned as a result of the Second Sudanese Civil War, which devastated the country from 1983 to 2005.
Luka lost his father in the conflict in 1995.Three of his siblings died of other causes. As chaos grew throughout the region, his mother turned to the missionary priests at the church, where Luka was an altar boy.
“I would hear bombs and gunshots, and I would have to [jump] into the nearest ditch and take cover,” Luka said in an interview with Air Force Times. “Everyone in the village kept telling my mother to get me out of the country to Kenya so I could [be safe] and get my education.”
Luka journeyed to Kenya in an open truck for two daysin 1997.He rode with two priests and about 20 boys. He was told not to say anything at the various checkpoints leading into the country.
At the refugee camp, he had Bible study with 50 to 100 boys every week for about five years, which helped him practice his English. He also met Sister Louise, who helped him finish boarding school and gave him “a chance to live.”
“In seventh grade, Sister Louise asked all of the boys to write their life stories for her, and she sent them to the American, Canadian and Australian embassies,” Luka said. “Then the U.S. Embassy called ... and I was really happy.”
After passing all of his sponsorshipinterviews, he was off to New York, where he would later call Syracuse home. He eventually moved in with Rob and Barbara Rogers, who had a son of their own and took in six Lost Boys.
“Dominic is the nicest guy. We always said, ‘He’s too nice to be in our family.’ It’s absolutely true,” Rob Rogers said. “My wife would come from work — I mean, I knew when she would have her tough days — but Dominic would take one look at her and would say, ‘I’m going to do the dishes.’ ”
Luka attended Tully High School, where he played soccer and ran for the track and field team. He received a full scholarship for track and field at Norfolk State University in Virginia and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in management information systems.
“Dominic was an exceptional athlete,” Rogers said. “But [his decision to join the Air Force] is something he wanted more.”
Rogers said each of his boys seems to have the motivation to give back to the country that took them in. For Luka, there was another inspiration.
“I met my future wife, Laura, on New Year’s Eve on a family trip to Key West, [Fla.],” Luka said. “We talked, and I learned she was in the Coast Guard,” he said.
Luka not only had his New Year’s kiss that night in 2010,but would Skype and talk with Laura for the next few months before he proposed.
He and Laura married in 2012 and made their home in Oregon. Laura has since left the Coast Guard, but Luka this year chose a career in the military.
“I wanted to give back to this country,” Luka said.
He marvels at the discipline it takes to get through basic training.
“I enjoy the marching and drills especially. Being older kind of helps me [to mentor] other cadets, and I tell them this type of training prepares you not just for the Air Force, but for life,” said Luka, now 28.
Luka said he will never lose track of his foster family, who plan to attend his BMT graduation. But communicating with family in Sudan —once again in turmoil — will always be a challenge. He spoke with a brother in Sudan in 2005, and his brother recently called him to congratulate him on his Air Force commitment.
Luka doesn’t have the details of how often the 446th will need him, so he’s also thinking of working general maintenance with Goodyear. But knowing he’s in the Air Force Reserve means there “is opportunity everywhere,” he said.
“My wife and family support me, and that’s important,” he said.
Luka recalled the story of the day his father died. The family heard gunshots and explosions early in the morning, and fled. His father decided to run back to salvage anything they could take with them in case they had to flee permanently. He never made it back.
“I always tell my friends ... you never know how one moment can change your life, just by doing something different,” Luka said.■