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From Honduran Air Force to Reedley College

IN THE October 9 ISSUE

FROM THE 2021 Articles,
andEducation,
andJim Mulligan,
andReedley News
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by Jim Mulligan

On a regular afternoon in the bustling capital city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Cathy Luque was walking with her young one-year-old son. They were approached by a man, a known local drug dealer, on a motorbike who buzzed right up to them and offered her some chilling advice, “You better make sure to take good care of the kid.” After that, it didn’t take long for 1st Lieutenant Captain Select Jaime Luque and his wife Cathy to decide they needed to make a drastic change. After eight years of serving his country as a pilot, tasked with providing counter-drug operation missions, his name, along with others in his squadron, was leaked to the very drug cartels he had been combating while at the controls of his A-37B Dragonfly equipped with a machine gun. Luque and his wife made the tough decision to leave their home country and a lucrative career in the Air Force to seek other opportunities, and most importantly safety, in the United States.

Like many who face the heart-wrenching decision to leave their homeland to retreat from the threat of murder, Luque found out the actual decision wasn’t even the really hard part. Re-establishing oneself in a foreign land, facing language and cultural barriers, and without the ability to transfer the credentials that were so hard-earned in one’s home country, can be a real struggle. For Luque, once in the United States, he needed to find employment; unfortunately for him, just because you’re an ace fighter pilot from Honduras, doesn’t mean you get to jump into a cockpit in the U.S. For years, Luque spent many hours as an Uber driver, here in the Valley and in the Bay Area, scraping together the money he needed to help his family survive. But Luque was no stranger to working hard and struggling a little, and his determination eventually paid off.

The Luque family: Jaime with wife Cathy, and their children from left to right, Cesiah, Caleb and Sarah.

Jaime Luque grew up with his three siblings and his parents in what he called a middle-class family in the capital of Honduras. Luque said of his childhood home, “You know, by American standards maybe it wasn’t middle-class, but we had what we needed, we went to public school, and we lived in a nice area.” His dad was an administrator and his mother a home-maker in what is today one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Times change, and when young Jaime was a teenager, his father lost his job and his parents separated, which set a different tone than he had been used to. He moved with his siblings and mother to his maternal grandparents’ home, which was in an area that was becoming more and more dominated by local gangs. Despite the hardships that would come in the next few years, young Jaime continued to excel in school and graduated with a diploma as an electrical technician (high school students in Central America typically specialize in a technical field).

An early photo of Luque and his sister, Ileana, at their home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

If you didn’t already know, opportunities in Honduras, even for hard-working, educated young people, are farther and fewer between than even the worst situations in the U.S. While Luque aspired to attend university, he knew it wasn’t likely to come to fruition. As fate would have it, for some time he had been playing baseball with his friends on the local air base baseball field, watching and admiring the aircraft flying in and out overhead. Serendipitously, a family friend encouraged Luque to spread his wings and join the Air Force. He decided to give it a go.

Luque in his second year of the Honduran Air Force Academy.

That year, Jaime Luque and about 1,200 other Honduran youth applied to become Air Force cadets. Luque was among the 120 applicants granted admission. After four years, only 21 of the initial 120 walked across the graduation stage. Just seven of them became pilots. Jaime Luque was one of them.

“The attrition rate was so high,” Luque described his time as a cadet. “The physical demands and stress was so high.” In addition to his own tenacity, he attributes a lot of his success in the academy to lessons he learned in high school, “As a senior, I received the Dale Carnegie Training for Young Adults that was pivotal in helping me keep my goals and a positive attitude when going through the academy.”

Luque in the cockpit.

For the next eight years, as an officer in the Honduran Air Force, Luque flew missions along the coastal areas to the east, often working with the fighter pilots from Venezuela and Columbia to intercept, assist in apprehension, and sometimes take out known drug shipments being flown between countries by the cartels. He and his colleagues worked tirelessly, sometime closely with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, to valiantly thwart the efforts of the drug lords. Unfortunately, the cartels were eventually able to infiltrate far enough into local governments, even weasel themselves into the Air Force, and get the names of the crew members of Luque’s squadron. That’s when the fire power that he wielded from his cockpit became useless; it couldn’t keep the ones he loved most safe.

Luque, being greeted by his children, Caleb and Sarah, after returning from a mission.

If you remember, once in the U.S. Luque spent a long time Ubering, trying to get ahead and make enough to support his family. He longed to put his piloting skills to good use, but lacked the official licensing required to fly in the U.S. He caught wind of a new program at our very own Reedley College, providing training and instruction in flight science, with an option to get licensed. Luque made an appointment to meet with the Flight Science Program Coordinator/Instructor, Mr. John Johnson. He brought every piece of evidence and record of his training and flight time, hoping to get a little credit towards the requisites of the program. After the meeting, learning about his training and experience, Johnson didn’t recommend that Luque become a student at Reedley College. He encouraged him to get a job as a Flight Science instructor at Reedley College. Through a partnership with Valley Regional Occupational Program, Reedley College offers dual enrollment classes to local high school students interested in Flight Science. With his experience, Luque was immediately hired by VROP to begin teaching these courses. With the growth of the Flight Science program at Reedley College, recently a new college instructor position was created and Luque snatched up the position. John Johnson is very happy to have Luque as a colleague, “He has great compassion and understanding towards his aviation high school students. He understands that when we look at what is best for students, we can then make better decisions on whatever next steps need to be taken.”

Luque in the lab at Reedley College with students Jaqueline Lopez and Eduardo Ramos.

So just remember, in addition to instructors at Reedley College who are talented artists, great writers, consummate historians, and astute business professionals, there’s a real-life super hero who used to fly through the air to fight crime on an international level. He’s cool, calm and collected – more “Clark Kent-like” nowadays – and he’s positively influencing a new generation of youth who want to take to the skies.

Be sure to check out more Reedley articles in our Reedley category.

Jim Mulligan is a 6th generation Californian, born and raised in Selma. He has been employed in Reedley on and off for the last twenty years. He married his college sweetheart, a Reedley-ite, Kristi. They now reside in Reedley with their five children. Jim loves to create Bonsai and travel as much as possible, both near and far. He is a member of the KCUSD Board of Trustees and is employed by Reedley College as the Tutorial Coordinator.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jose October 9, 2021 at 12:25pm

I am very proud of my cousin Jaime Luque since all his effort and conviction have returned a lot of happiness to him and his family.

Reply

2 Jaime Alexis Luque October 10, 2021 at 9:41am

I’m so proud to call u BROTHER, a real hero on real life ?????????

Reply

3 Ethan Luque October 10, 2021 at 7:37pm

Im so proud to call u my uncle you`r a role model to me i love you uncle

Reply

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