BREAKING NEWS Ugandan-born Lukiah Mulumba Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in US Air Force

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In Summary: She is a woman of multiple firsts. She is the first Ugandan-born woman to be promoted to the rank of Lt Colonel in the US Air Force. She is the pioneer Ugandan-born immigrant woman to become a member of the US Air Force officer corp. She is battle-hardened too; has served duties in war theaters including Afghanistan.

She doubles as a philanthropist, an accomplished nursing professional with a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP). She is a loving wife and a mother to three children. She has broken and blasted the proverbial glass ceiling. She is an inspiring role model of a rare kind. That resilient woman is the tenacious yet down to earth Dr. Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba! She mothered, nursed, nurtured, and helped her first-born daughter recover from a debilitating sickle cell disease. As Samuel Muwanguzi writes, that process plunged her into a new world of community service and social advocacy, a terrain she is navigating with the dexterity and diligence of a trained soldier, love and compassion of a mother, precision and nimbleness of a professional doctor, passion and empathy of a mentor, commitment of a loyal friend, and decorum of a culturally grounded and a quintessential woman, born and raised in Uganda. Yet, that is just but a fraction of her story.

Dr. Lukiah Mulumba being pinned to the rank of Lt Col of the US Air Force by her youngest daughter Aliah (left) and son Mark Abdullah Mulumba during the pinning ceremony on Sunday November 7, 2021 at the Travis Air Force Base.

San Francisco Bay Area, California—It is a clear manifestation of how the resilience of the human spirit defies all odds to scale the highest of heights. “Given my rural and humble background as an African woman, I had never in my life dreamt of becoming a Lt Col in the world’s most powerful Air Force,” newly promoted Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba confided in the EADM soon after she learned about her promotion. But now, it is confirmed. resilience, tenacity, and humility have been rewarded. Ugandan-born Dr. Lukiah Mulumba has been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) in the US Air Force. She was pinned on Sunday November 7, 2021 by her daughter Aliah Naginda and her son Mark Abudallah Mulumba at a colorful military ceremony held at Travis Air Force Base Reserve Unit.

Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba takes a salute soon after her pinning. Her colleague, the 349th Reserve Unit Colonel, Chief Nurse Lt Col Echeona salutes back.

“I am overwhelmed with joy and I thank God, my family, superiors, fellow servicemen and women, and the US Air Force for supporting and encouraging me in whatever I have done during my 16-year career in the Air Force,” the emotionally overwhelmed Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba told the EADM immediately after the ceremony. The pinning ceremony was attended by the 349th Reserve Unit Colonel, Chief Nurse Lt Col Echeona, servicemen and women, her husband and a few friends. Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba becomes the first known Ugandan-born woman to earn the rank of Lt Col in the US Air Force. She has ‘now washed her hands and shall dine with kings’; brush shoulders with the top brass of the US Air Force. Saludos! She told the EADM that the news of her promotion was first brought to her attention towards the end of last month, October 2021. The news was also a confirmation of her promotion to the rank of Lt Col “I am greatly humbled and honored by this promotion”, she said. “This is a recognition and endorsement of my Air Force story; years of hard work, leadership, and professionalism by my superiors,” she told the EADM. “To me, this sounds unbelievable and a humbling experience for a woman of color like me. I am so grateful. The rank is timely,” she excitedly told the EADM. “Although the promotion is coming with more challenging responsibilities, I am ready for them,” she declared with the determination and finality of a real trained soldier. I acquiesced.

The newly promoted Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba with her family:(L-R) husband Abdullah Mulumba, son Mark Mulumba, daughter Aliah Mulumba and her colleague from the U.S. Air Force soon after her pinning ceremony

The newly promoted Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba has been serving as an active Air Force officer for the last 16 years. She feels quite blessed to be part of the US Air Force, the most technologically advanced and professional fighting machine in the world. “I am proud to serve my country America and to give back to America for what it has enabled me to be who I am today,” she told the EADM in 2017. Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba has served on two deployment tours in Afghanistan in 2014 and earlier, locally in Washington DC in 2010. 

Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba

Besides her military deployments, Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba has completed various military training programs. In 2017, Lt Col Mulumba completed a master’s degree from Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) from Maxwell, Air Force Base Alabama. She also trained as a Battlefield Trauma/Triage nurse officer for critically ill at the University of Maryland, in 2013 after she had earned a Diploma in Squadron Officer School resident program, from Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama in 2010. Lt Col Mulumba completed training in Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, Radiological Warfare & Terrorism Response, at Lackland AFB, 2005, 2011, and 2013 and had earlier received a Diploma as an Air Force Commissioned Officer from the US Air Force Training School at Maxwell, Alabama in April 2005. In 2001, she completed an OB/Short Stay, Neurology fellowship at John Hopkins Hospital, Maryland.

The decorated Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba

Throughout her 16-year career with the US Air Force thus far, Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba has held management positions such as Director of Community Outreach; Flight Commander; Primary Care; Behavior Health; Acute Clinics and Ambulance Services; Supervised both civilians and active duty service members; Element Leader and Charge Nurse, largest Critical Care Unit; Intensive Care; Intermediate and Cardiovascular Unit; In House Hospital Supervisor; Charge Nursing Critical Care/Trauma; Post-Anesthesia Care; Emergency Room; Trauma Triage; ICU; ER; PACU Units; United States Air Force; The Craig Joint Theater Hospital; Bagram, Afghanistan in 2014. Others included charge Nurse, Pediatric Intensive Care; Unit Critical Care Nursing; Aeromedical Staging Facility, 779th Aerospace Medicine Squadron; Cardiac Cath and Special Procedure; Med-Surgical Nursing; Critical Care Nurse; and Adult Intensive Care Unit.

Newly promoted Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba appears here in a group photograph during the course of her career in the US Air Force

During her exemplary career, Lt Col Dr. Lukiah Mulumba has received numerous military awards, medals, and memberships, including, among others, an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, a National Defense Service Medal, Global war on Terrorism Service Medal, an Air Force Commendation Medal, an AF Overseas Ribbon Short Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon with Gold Border, an Air Force Longevity Service, an Air Force Training Ribbon, NATO Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Medal Air Force Achievement Medal, Meritorious Unit Award, Afghanistan Campaign Medal. Awards; Field Grade Air Force Officer of the year, 2015, Field Grade officer of the year, 2015, Air Force Officer of the quarter 2015, Out Standing Performance, Infection Control Program Award, Afghanistan, 2014. Air Force certificate of Achievement Medal Afghanistan, 2014. Senior Company Grade Nurse Air Force Officer of the Year, 2013. Award for Patient Safety for providing world class to David Grant Medical Center, 2013. Company Grade Officer of the Quarter in Health and Management, 2012. ICU Flight Nurse of the Month Award in Patient Care, 2012. 779th Aeromedical Staging Facility, Top Performer Award, Andrews AFB, Maryland, 2010. Annual Spirit Award in Health and Community Service. Top Ladies of Distinction Inc. Texas, 2010. Unit Education & Training Award, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Lackland AFB, San Antonio, Texas. 59th Inpatient Operations Group Commander's Coin for Health and Community Service Work, 2010. Overall Excellence in Family Health Award, Stony Brook University, New York, 2009. Award of Top Ladies of Distinction Inc Award, and an Annual Spirit Awards in Health and Community Service.

Lt Col Dr. Lukiah Mulumba during an earlier milestone in the US Air Force

For her formal education, Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba holds a terminal education degree; a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) from the University of Alabama Birmingham, 2014. Despite her busy schedule as an officer in the US Air Force, Dr. Lukiah Mulumba found time to conduct research and publish a peer-reviewed scholarly article titled ‘Sickle cell disease among children in Africa: An integrative literature review and global recommendations, in the international Journal of Africa Nursing Sciences in 2015. Earlier, in 2009, she earned a Master of Science degree in Nursing specializing in Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) from Stony Brook University in New York. She had previously graduated with a Bachelor of Nursing degree from the Catholic University of America, Washington DC in 2000.

Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba seated on a mat peeling matooke (plantains), the staple food of her indigenous Buganda community

Born and raised in Kiiti, a remote and small village near Gayaza in the former Mpigi district now renamed Wakiso district on the fringes of Uganda’s capital city Kampala, Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba received her early formal primary education at Namugongo girls boarding primary school and secondary education at Ndejje Senior Secondary School. “This early education shaped me as a typical African woman grounded in the traditions of my Buganda and Uganda culture,” she proudly said.

The newly promoted US Air Force Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba migrated to the United States in 1995, where she has since lived as a naturalized citizen. Interestingly, her life story is as inspiring as the history of her adopted country of citizenship, the most powerful nation in the world where millions around the globe aspire and crave to live, visit, or study. It is a country for which she has put her life on the line to selflessly serve in uniform, and, if need arises, die for it. You can take that to the bank! 

Lt Col Mulumba during her teenage days with her high school sweetheart Abdullah Mulumba in Uganda

Curiously, her success, as it so often does, has not gone to her head. She is no victim of her own success. She stands, leans, and cries on the shoulders of the one and only man, the rocky and ebullient Mr. Abudallah Mulumba, her supportive pillar and loving husband and father of their three children. Together, as a family, her career has blossomed, challenges jointly resolved, and milestones collectively celebrated. Yet, for a woman of her rank, stature, and class, her humility is disarmingly mortifying. More still, she has not forgotten where she came from, her humble beginnings into which she was thrust by providence. She has endeavored to give back to the community and country of her birth, Uganda.

Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba with her husband Abdullah Mulumba on their wedding day

Within the Ugandan Diaspora community in the United States, you may not find many an inspiring role model to learn from, listen and speak to, but above all, emulate. Little wonder, then, that, in 2017, UNAA, consistent with the year’s theme of “Empowering women”, selected the then Major Dr. Lukiah Mulumba, an ideal woman by every measure, the keynote speaker at the convention in Boston to better exemplify that motif. And she didn’t disappoint. Her advice? “In my life’s journey, I always strive to remember where I came from and to my fellow Ugandan-Americans in the Diaspora, always remember your origin, take a moment to thank God for what He has done for you. Never give up striving for what He has in store for you!” I couldn’t agree more!

Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba being welcomed home after her deployment in Afghanistan

Mrs. Mulumba has been happily married for 22 years to her high school sweet heart Mr. Abudallah Mulumba, who she describes as “a wonderful man and personal hero” since he came into her life and most especially, during the difficult times and trials when their daughter Marriam Carol battled the debilitating sickle cell disease. “My husband is the one man behind my strength during all the trials and successes we have had in the struggle against the sickle cell disease my daughter suffered and those similarly afflicted in Uganda,” she says. The couple has three beautiful children; the sickle cell-survivor Carol Marriam Zawedde, 20, Abudallah Mark Kanabi, 18, and Aliah Naginda Mulumba, 14.

Marriam Carol in recovery room after surgery to prepare her for transplant 2008 (left) and on the (right) in the hospital play center while on oxygen.

But as fate would have it, in 2001, after she had given birth to their first born daughter, Marriam Carol, the family received devastating news from doctors who diagnosed their little loving daughter with sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease is an inherited red blood disorder that has a crescent or sickled shape and abnormal hemoglobin in the red blood cell.

Before (post-transplant) 2008
Periodic Lung checking 2010 

Sickle-shaped cells are not flexible and can easily stick to vessel walls, causing a blockage that slows or stops the flow of blood leading to decreased oxygen reaching to nearby tissues or organs causing severe pain, crisis and major organ complications, according to sources in the medical field.

The couple does not remember the number of times they had to rush to emergency rooms at midnight or recall the multiple procedures, blood transfusions, intravenous accesses and the numerous bottles of medications they kept in their home pharmacy, she narrates. They always had a bag packed and ready to run off to hospital for all kinds of crises resulting from the sickness their daughter endured, she recalls. 

After (8 years post-transplant) 2016

In 2008, the making of a miracle started unfolding. At barely 7 years, Mariam Carol Zawedde Mulumba was cured from sickle cell disease through the use of bone marrow and umbilical cord blood transplant procedure donated by her then 4-year-old brother. By God’s grace, he saved her life. From the tragedy, the family emerged triumphant. Carol became the first Ugandan to ever be cured of the deadly sickle cell disease. It was a miracle come true!

Sickle cell survivor Carol is now a sophomore at the University of California Los Angels and is a member of the school’s football band

At 20, Carol is now a young adult, living a health life, free of sickle cell anemia and a child sickle cell and transplant advocate. She volunteers and comforts children with their parents who are faced with transplant. In conjunction with her parents, she advocates and raise sickle cell awareness globally with a focus on Uganda. Carol, now a sophomore and on honor roll, attends University of California (UCLA) majoring in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics with a minor in global health studies. She strives to become a doctor to care for children affected by sickle cell disease. Unknown to the Mulumba family, the period their daughter suffered from the deadly sickle cell disease, God was preparing the ground for them to plunge into philanthropic work or humanitarian outreaches.

Lt Col Lukia Mulumba in her traditional dress at home in the USA

In 2006, now Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba as she is commonly known, and her husband Abdullah Mulumba, started the Uganda-American Sickle Cell Rescue Fund in Texas as their daughter battled sickle cell disease. Since then, Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba and her family have dedicated their life to making a difference and raising awareness to those affected and living with Sickle cell disease in Uganda and globally. 

To better serve and create awareness in Uganda, she founded a nonprofit organization called “Uganda–American Sickle Cell Rescue Fund” (UASCRF) in 2006. “The organization has been serving as a conduit of assistance to the Uganda sickle cell disease cause and works towards the improvement of the general quality of life for people living with sickle cell disease through treatment, fighting against the stigma associated with the disease, providing education and information on sickle cell disease management,” Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba, now fully engaged in social advocacy through social media and private emails, phone calls and community service toward better management of the disease, says. 

The then Maj Lukiah Mulumba, DNP, conducting training and mentoring session to nurses and staff from Nsambya, Mengo, Mulago, Kibuli hospitals during one of the Nurses Medical Education Days on June 20th, 2016.

From start, Maj. Mulumba realized that the mission of her organization would only be achieved through networking with the corporate world, organizations, global, national, and local communities, and opinion leaders, she says. An opportunity made itself available during the UNAA convention in Denver, Colorado, in 2012, when, the then Capt. Lukiah Mulumba was recognized for her military service and community work in Uganda and globally and was asked to speak at the convention, the US Air Force Lt Col recalls. “I lamented the challenges I faced with the local community-based organizations as I strived to change the face of sickle cell disease in Uganda,” she narrates. At the convention, she met with the recently departed Dr. Bulaimu Muwanga Kibirige famously known as BMK and shared with him her passion and vision regarding the sickle cell disease in Uganda, she says. To her delight, the late Dr. BMK graciously announced to the UNAA audience his determination to join hands with Mulumba to take on the “sickle cell cause” in Uganda, the now bullish Lt Col recalls.

Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba with the late Br. Bulaim Muwanga Kibirige (BMK) during one of the conferences in Kampala, Uganda

“BMK donated the 5 Star Nile Hall in Hotel Africana to facilitate any workshops, conferences, or meetings aimed to promote sickle cell awareness,” she says with gratitude. In conjunction with Dr. BMK, The Uganda American sickle Cell rescue foundation (UASCRF) in Uganda was founded in 2013, initially solely championed by Dr. Bulaimu Muwanga Kibirige, the initiative supports sickle cell activities in Uganda, she says. In addition, BMK donated offices located at BMK house with free internet services, 3 computers, printer, scanner, fridge & 5 paid employees. The Mulumba’s donated the computers, printer, scanner and water dispenser. Dr. BMK reached out to his friends in Uganda mainly those in the corporate world and invited them to join the sickle cell battle. The UASCRF now Uganda Sickle Cell Rescue Foundation (USCRF) has joined hands with board members of major organizations for support including Dr & Mrs. Leilani of Roofing Group and Dr. Erotus Nsubuga of AGT group who are the main sponsors and sister Delores Namirembe of Nsambya Nursing School. In its outreach activities to create awareness on sickle cell disease in Uganda, UASCRF has held four major conferences at Hotel Africana with Dr. Lukiah Mulumba presenting at all the four conferences in addition to remotely co-organizing the 2nd Sickle Cell Conference in Uganda while deployed in Afghanistan. She has also co-organized the major Kabaka run in support of sickle cell, over 40 workshops, 50 free screening clinics around the country, fundraisings, charity walks, and other sickle cell-related activities both nationally and internationally. Since 2010, the Uganda American Sickle Cell Foundation has delivered direct services to over 40,150 people across Uganda, developed a network support of over 200 groups, and over 20,153 registered members.

The late BMK who was a strong supporter of the Uganda Sickle Cell eradication campaign holding a trophy here in recognition of his efforts and now promoted Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba in the background (right)

Asked about what propels her to move forward amidst numerous challenges, she says: “I have always been a humble, naturally outgoing, caring, down-to-earth, aggressive, strong, focused, hardworking, and a perfectionist woman.” “And my daughter’s illness and cure continue to humble me.”

Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba has also scooped numerous awards in recognition of her community service activities including, among others, an Excellency Award in fight against sickle cell globally with focus on Africa, 2013; Award on challenges faced in controlling and preventing sickle cell presented by the Rotary Club of Kampala, Uganda, 2012; Outstanding Leadership Award in Honor of Outstanding Performance and Dedication for High Standards of  Excellent Service to the Global Community, Ugandan North American Association, 23rd Annual UNAA Convention, Denver, Colorado, 2011; Ugandan Diaspora Award in recognition of distinguished service as a Ugandan Success Story abroad, 2011. She also has membership to the American Advanced Nurse Practitioner, American Nurses Association, President & Founder of Uganda-American Sickle Cell Rescue Fund, and co-founder of Uganda Sickle Cell Rescue Foundation of Uganda.

Newly promoted Lt Col Lukiah Mulumba in military fatigues has some words of wisdom for Ugandans in the diaspora

And to her fellow Ugandan-Americans living in the Diaspora, she says: “Life is full of challenges of which each comes with great lessons to learn and enhance your process to move forward,” She counsels, adding, “I am grateful to God, America, Air Force, my dear husband, children, UASCRF members, Uganda, my dear parents and family, Kiiti village residents for helping me fly on your shoulders,” she says graciously. “Because of you, I am who I am today. I am humbled to work for you and continue to serve the needy, sick, and suffering,” she states in what appears to be a sneak peek into what drives and inspires her to stay in the fight. As a US Air Force Lt Col she may well recite the mantra moving forward. It’s your moment, Lukiah, savor it!

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