Former Penn captain Dau Jok deploys to Iraq

Dau Jok spoke at the Penn School of Arts & Sciences Commencement in 2014, one of many honors that Jok has earned through his educational programming and advocacy. (Penn Hillel)

WHO TV in Des Moines, Iowa reported earlier this week that Dau Jok, a member of Penn basketball from 2010 to 2014, departed Monday for Iraq as a member of the United States Army Reserve’s 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command.  According to the station, Jok and his unit will be in Iraq for at least a year.

Jok, along with his younger brother Peter were born in Khartoum, Sudan.  When Dau was six and Peter three, their father Dut, a general in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, was killed during the Second Sudanese Civil War.  Their grandfather Jok Dau Kachuol, the chief of their village, would be killed in 2010, during a clash between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army soldiers and armed civilians.

They escaped with their mother and two other siblings to Uganda and later Kenya before eventually settling in 2003 in Des Moines, where there is a sizable Sudanese refugee community. Both brothers learned to play basketball in America and later starred at Theodore Roosevelt High School.  Dau would go on to play for Penn while Peter would suit up for former Penn player Fran McCaffery (1979-1982) at Iowa.

Dau made 81 appearances for Jerome Allen’s Quakers, averaging 8.2 minutes and 2.1 points per game.  While his stats were not overwhelming, Jok’s bigger contributions came off the court.

“This is not your typical 18-year-old,” Allen told the Philadelphia Daily News in July 2011. “In my opinion – in the end – the university will have benefited more from having him than he will from having attended Penn.”

(Jok would later praise his former coach when submitting a testimonial to U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams during Allen’s sentencing this month for accepting bribes from a Florida businessman to admit his son as a recruited athlete.  “I went to Penn to break three-point records but graduated having grown into a complete student-athlete — a man inspired to lead a life of service,” he informed the judge. “I am the man I am today in part because of his leadership.”)

During his first year in West Philadelphia, he started the Dau Jok Foundation, which seeks to to empower South Sudanese youth through the vehicles of education, recreational sports and leadership building programming.  For his efforts he was named a recipient of the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Projects For Peace Award, a national prize given yearly to 100 college students who have plans to promote peace through grassroots efforts.

That summer, Jok and teammate Zack Rosen, the future 2012 Ivy Player of the Year, joined a dozen other Penn students at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. The village was designed to provide a home for orphans from all over the country who lost their families during the Rwandan genocide. The trip, sponsored through the campus’ Hillel, was covered by Jok through a series of blog posts at ESPN.

For his philanthropic efforts, Jok was given the US Basketball Writers of America’s (USBWA) Most Courageous Award in 2013-14, which goes to an athlete who demonstrated extraordinary courage reflecting honor on the sport of amateur basketball.  He also received the Wooden Citizenship Cup, given by Athletes for A Better World.  This yearly award, named after legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, is presented to distinguished athletes – two high school, one collegiate, and one professional – who have made the greatest difference in the lives of others.

After graduating with a major in Philosophy and a minor in African Studies in 2014, Jok completed a Master of Sciences in Global Leadership at Goldsmiths, University of London in the spring of 2015.

Upon Jok’s return to Des Moines in the summer of 2015, he joined the Army Reserve.  He was named a Platoon Leader for a 31-Soldier Engineer Platoon, responsible for training, accountability, welfare, mentoring and discipline.  In February 2018, he became the Aide-de-Camp to the Commanding General of the 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command.

The 250-person group left Iowa on Monday for Iraq, where they will support logistic efforts.

Making things more challenging for 1st Lieutenant is the fact that he recently got married.  “I recently just got married less than a month ago and now I’m leaving, so it`s difficult,” said Jok to WHO TV. “However, it is a sacrifice that is necessary.

After hearing the news of his grandfather’s murder in 2010, the young Dau was filled with rage and thought of the military as a vehicle for revenge.  As he told the Philadephia Daily News, “I just wanted to join the Army [and] learn the skills and go kill people.”  Almost a decade later, the older Dau sees his military service through a new lens.

“I’ve enjoyed the privileges of America.  It`s the first country to recognize us as citizens or as human beings.  It`s important for me to give back and the military is an opportunity to do that,” said Jok.  “Me wearing the uniform is the least I can do for this country,”

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