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'Dream On': Grissom civil engineer from Nigeria loving life in the United States

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alexa Culbert

“Dream on!” That’s what 12-year old Afolabi Jacob was told when fellow Nigerians learned about 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 United States 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 at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana, 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.”

With a love of both soccer and music, Jacob 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 real 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 in the states, Jacob began studying engineering 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 in 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 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 is 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.” #ReserveResilient

(Culbert is assigned to the 434th ARW public affairs office.)