Grissom civil engineer finds ‘American Dream’

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alexa Culbert
  • 434th ARW Public Affairs
Dream on! That’s what 12-year old Afolabi Jacob was told when fellow Nigerians learned his ambitions of being an engineer.

Jacob knew at age 12 he wanted to be an engineer. Unfortunately for him, in Nigeria that’s a big dream unless you’re from a wealthy family.
Jacob did dream on, and in 2015 he moved from Nigeria to the U.S. to attend college and play soccer for Purdue University.

“I made the decision to move to the United States because I wanted to go somewhere I could use most of my talents,” the 434th Civil Engineer Squadron electrical systems engineer apprentice said. “If I were in another country right now I could have just been playing soccer, but the U.S. is one place where you can do multiple things at the same time.”

Jacob plays soccer and music, and said he was able to do both of those things while attending school and working.

“I was able to finish school and do all of those things together which is something that made the U.S. unique to me and why I chose to come over here.”

While his primary passions are engineering and aviation, it all began with a love for arts and crafts as a child, specifically kites and paper airplanes.

“This one time I made a paper airplane that went all the way into the clouds and I never found it,” he said. “A couple of days later I saw a plane and thought it looked like the paper airplane I made. I then began to build interest and said ‘when I grow up I’m going to design aircraft.’”

Shortly after arriving to the states, Jacob began studying engineering and playing soccer at Purdue. While there he was introduced to the U.S. military through the school’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program.

He spent two and half years into the program, but realized the Air Force was a better fit for him.

His interest in aviation drove him toward the Air Force, but he was disappointed to learn that his immigration status barred him from many of the aviation career fields.

“When I joined I wanted to do something with the aircraft, but I came here with a green card so I couldn’t get a job like that with the level of security that’s required, so I took what I could,” he said.

Jacob went on to enlist in the Air Force and became an electrical systems engineer. It wasn’t in aviation, but it fell under another passion of his and put his degree to use. Regardless, of his job, he said he doesn’t care what he does in the Air Force, as long as it’s serving the country.

“Legacy was the reason I joined,” Jacob said. “When people ask which benefits made me join the Air Force, I say nothing, it was the legacy. I don’t regret doing this because I’m doing what I wanted to.

“The people who fought all of the battles for us to be where we are today and the legacy that they left is the reason why I’m still here.”

In July 2021, six years after first arriving to the United States, Jacob obtained his U.S. naturalization and citizenship through his military service, which opens the doors to more career opportunities within the aviation field.

When Jacob is not serving at Grissom, he’s working as a contracted engineer in Indianapolis.

He someday hopes to expand his horizons and explore other opportunities in the country, but hasn’t decided on a specific path just yet.

“I wouldn’t want to say goodbye to Grissom like that, this is a great family and it’s my origin,” he said. “If I chose to stay in the military this is where I started, so I will just see what works best, but I wouldn’t want to just leave Grissom like that, otherwise I would have already done it.”

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.

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