Don Sumic

Don Sumic
Don Sumic

When Don Sumic graduated from high school in Waikoloa, on Hawaii’s Big Island, he saw many of his classmates headed in one direction.

“It’s like everybody always asks, ‘Which hotel are you going to go work at?’” he said. “I didn’t want to do that.”

Instead, Sumic joined the U.S. Army and spent seven years on active duty, with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. After discharge, he enrolled at a community college in Texas. But he wasn’t done moving yet.

His older brother and sister-in-law, both also active duty in the U.S. Air Force, were headed to Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks. Sumic looked into the possibilities and found something he liked: UAF’s ROTC battalion. So he moved north, too.

“It’s not an oversized battalion, and it’s not too undersized,” he said. Some schools in Texas have as many as 2,000 cadets; UAF has about 30, with three instructors.

“We get more hands-on training and more eyesight on us, so we can get more critiques,” Sumic said.

Sumic, who is studying homeland security and emergency management, is a first-generation college student. His father was a third-generation sugar cane plantation worker before changing economic conditions shut down Hawaii’s industry.

Sumic likes the “small-town” feel of Fairbanks and UAF, which he finds similar to the parts of Hawaii outside the tourist developments.

“Some people are looking for a lot of people, but I’m not,” Sumic said.

The weather bears no resemblance to Hawaii, though. Sumic is amazed at how Alaskans roll with it.

“We’ve got four inches of snow and minus 40 degrees. You sit there looking at Blackboard and ask ‘Did my teacher send out that he’s not going to be here today?’ Nope. There’s no such thing as snow days in Alaska.”