From growing up on U.S. Air Force bases, running on to the Penn State football team, competing on NBC’s “The Titan Games,” and now his pioneering position with the U.S. Space Force, Kyle Lucas’ story goes to show that you, and nobody else, are in control of your future.
Kyle James Lucas was born to parents Rodney and Vanessa Lucas on the Dover Air Force Base, in Dover, Delaware, where Rodney was stationed. Just three months later, the family moved to Panama, where Kyle’s brother, Tyler, was born toward the end of the family’s three-year stay. The Lucas family then moved to Okinawa, Japan, where they lived for another five years. Following their time in Japan, the family moved to England and lived there for eight years with stops at two separate Royal Air Force bases.
Finally, in 2006, Kyle moved in with his aunt and uncle in Bellefonte.
“The whole reason I left England and moved in with my aunt and uncle was to try and get a college scholarship,” Lucas said.
Lucas’ athletic journey began while in school on the various military bases that his family called home. He started by running cross country and wrestling in sixth grade because, in Europe, middle schoolers on military bases weren’t allowed to travel outside the country for football.
When he did start playing football in high school, Lucas traveled all over the world. He played against other military base schools in Spain, Germany, and Belgium, among others.
“It was a cool experience getting to travel and experience more than you would stateside,” Lucas explained.
Upon returning to the United States, Lucas had one goal in mind.
“When I transferred back before my junior year,” Lucas said, “I was like, ‘All right, I’m coming back, I’m getting a scholarship, I’m gonna go play at Penn State and end up a huge star at Linebacker U.’”
Big schools like Penn State did not show much interest in Lucas, however, so he decided to attend what he thought was the largest school that offered him — Lock Haven University.
After two years playing linebacker at Lock Haven, Lucas wanted to take a shot at his dream. He transferred to Penn State, and when he got to University Park, he spent time camping outside the Lasch Football Building hoping to get noticed.
Although he says that nobody recognized him as the guy hanging out outside of Lasch, the program did give him a chance, and he pounced on it. Lucas made the team and fulfilled his dream of playing at Linebacker U.
One of his fondest memories in his two seasons with Penn State was the day that Joe Paterno got his 409th win. He recalled vividly the chilly day in which only a brave few turned up to witness history, as the Nittany Lions pulled out a 10-7 victory on a shanked field goal by Illinois as time expired.
“Hard work,” Lucas said, on what he learned from Joe Paterno. “Hard work and attention to detail, because it’s the little things that kill you.”
During his time at Penn State, Lucas got involved with student media and wrote for Onward State while playing football. He graduated in 2013 with a degree in journalism with a minor in kinesiology. After two years of unsuccessful attempts to break into the sports journalism industry, Lucas needed a change.
“I want to do something to serve a higher purpose,” Lucas remembered thinking while he was sitting at his desk before he was let go from his radio broadcasting job. “And so I started looking at the Air Force’s recruiting website.”
He enlisted soon after and found his way into the Air Force Space Command. Lucas worked in what is called an “organic space job” with the Air Force before the Space Force was founded in 2019.
Due to the nature of this job, Lucas was given two options when the Space Force was brought to life: He could either get trained on another job within the Air Force or enlist in the Space Force while keeping the same job.
“It was a seamless transition.” Lucas said. “The real big thing was, like, I took off the Air Force name tape from my uniform, and now it says Space Force.”
Staff Sergeant Lucas works as an “ops guy,” as he calls it, and he is responsible for maintaining the satellite constellation that he is assigned to, in order to make sure that the group’s mission continues. He works with a team of four, and to facilitate cohesion within the group, his shifts are usually comprised of the same four people.
“If anything happens, you know how to work with those people,” Lucas said. “What makes them tick, what they can handle, what you can’t handle.”
Even into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Space Force kept his team together. Lucas says that because his team on the ops floor was the one responsible for the continuing of the missions, their day-to-day was not impacted as much as some of the other non-essential personnel, who were relocated.
Currently, Lucas said the biggest struggle of his job is the inconsistency of the schedule and that his sleep schedule suffers sometimes because of it. But he also loves what he does, so the passion for the work makes up for the short nights of sleep.
Lucas also offered words of encouragement to students who are uncertain as to what their futures might hold.
“Don’t get discouraged by failure early on,” Lucas said. “It’s gonna take a little bit to really build yourself up to where you want.”