Nigerian gains US citizenship while serving as Grissom Air Reserve Base engineer

Candidates for U.S. citizenship recite the oath of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony at Naval Air Station Sigonella. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Erica R. Gardner)
December 06, 2021

A Nigerian man who immigrated to America to become an engineer is now carrying out that dream as a U.S. citizen at Grissom Air Reserve Base.

Afolabi Jacob said he knew he wanted to become an engineer when he was 12. That passion began with a love for arts and crafts — specifically making 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,” Jacob 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.'”

But as a kid in Nigeria, that ambition was only a pipe dream for those who weren’t born to a wealthy family.

That didn’t deter Jacob. In 2015, he won a scholarship to Purdue University to play soccer and study engineering.

“I made the decision to move to the United States because I wanted to go somewhere I could use most of my talents,” he 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 was able to play soccer, hold down a job, take classes and also pursue his love of music while attending Purdue.

It was at college where he was first introduced to the U.S. military through the school’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program. He spent two and half years in that program before realizing the Air Force was a better fit for him.

It was his interest in aviation that drove him toward the Air Force, but Jacob 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 was close enough and it put his degree to good use.

But now, Jacob has more opportunities in the military than he ever had before.

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

Jacob said he some day hopes to expand his horizons and explore other opportunities in the country, but hasn’t decided on a specific path just yet.

For now, he said, he doesn’t care what kind of job he has in the Air Force. He’s just happy 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 … 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.”


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