Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Col. Jacob Middleton, 50th Space Wing vice commander, speaks to Airmen during the Wingman Day opening ceremony at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, Nov. 9, 2018. Middleton spoke to Airmen about his time as a plumber at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, and overcoming the hardships he faced in his youth. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kathryn Calvert)
Schriever Sentinel

Humble beginnings set stage for future leader

By Halle Thornton

50th Space Wing Public Affairs

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Col. Jacob Middleton, 50th Space Wing vice commander, was the keynote speaker for the biannual Wingman Day, Nov. 9.

Middleton spoke about resiliency, sharing his personal experiences growing up below the poverty line.

“For those of you who don’t have experience in this area, just keep living,” he joked as he often does about the life’s more serious moments.

He looked forward to going to school not for the learning but for the free lunch.

“Most people learn something from going to school,” he said. “But that’s not what I was worried about back then.

“One of the things I remember my dad telling me was it was OK we didn’t have multiple changes of clothes,” he continued. “He explained why it was OK to come home and wash and wear them the next day. I thought that was a horrible idea, not because I didn’t have multiple pairs of clothes, but because I didn’t want to wash the clothes.”

Reminiscing on his days as an airman 1st class at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Middleton spoke of his struggles passing his Career Development Course as a plumber, and how his leadership steered him in the right direction.

“I won the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for the Mission Support Group at Shaw, but that year I also failed my CDCs,” he said. “I just didn’t want to study. What I didn’t know is that if I didn’t pass, it would have been really bad.”

Luckily, Middleton heeded guidance from his longtime mentor, now retired, Master Sgt. Rodney Greene.

“I had a boss who pointed me in the right direction even when I didn’t want to go that way,” he laughed.

After finally opening the course material and studying at home, Middleton passed.

“The point of this story is sometimes we have to take care of folks who may not take care of themselves,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here without people like Master Sgt. Greene.”

Middleton returned to Shaw AFB Oct. 26, and reunited with Greene and some of the Airmen working in his previous shop.

“The shop was almost star struck when they saw Colonel Middleton,” Greene said. “A former utilities technician, now a colonel and soon to be commander, sitting in the breakroom having a relaxed conversation where he once was doing the same job Airmen do today was great to see.”

Greene said he remembers Middleton as a hard worker.

“He was never afraid to get dirty, and as a plumber, dirt is a part of the job,” he laughed. “As a senior airman at Shaw Air Force Base, he always stood out and was destined for big things.”

Middleton credited Greene with helping him push through the hard moments, and made him realize he was stronger than the things he was going through.

“Being resilient in something is learning how to keep moving forward and pressing forward when things aren’t going your way,” he said. “You can be more resilient than what you were born into.”

Middleton will always remember one piece of wisdom Greene left with him before his departure from Shaw AFB: “When you’re making an effort to help somebody, those are the folks that don’t want to be helped, but everybody is ultimately watching you, and you never know who you’re going to help.”

Middleton is slated to deploy in the coming year. Following that assignment, he is slated to take command of the wing at the Aerospace Data Facility at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado.

Humble beginnings set stage for future leader
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