SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
A young boy from across the world never anticipated traveling thousands of miles to the U.S. on an athletic scholarship, nor the many opportunities it opened for him.
Now at Schriever, this Airman reminisced on his humble beginnings, growing up in a small town in Kenya with his parents and four siblings.
“Where I’m from, we lived on farm land and kids ran to school every day,” said Staff Sgt. Jackson Langat, 6th Space Operations Squadron satellite system operator. “In all, I covered about 20 miles a day. Growing up, I never had a pair of running shoes but it was something I grew accustomed to and eventually, I developed a love for the sport.”
The running Langat had done throughout his childhood prepared him for track and field in high school.
“In 1996, I realized I could run competitively,” Langat said. “I never planned on that path, but others noticed that I had what it took.”
His coach saw potential in him, helping him earn a National Collegiate Athletic Association scholarship to Texas Christian University.
“It is rare to find people like my coach from Kenya,” Langat said. “He changed my life and put me in the right position. All those changes led me to where I am today and that is something I am proud of.”
In 2002, Langat began his Bachelors of Economics degree, while balancing his time as an NCAA track and field athlete. During his senior year, he was crowned the 2006 NCAA indoor champion in the 800 meter run.
After graduating from TCU in 2006, Langat made his way back to Kenya, but shortly realized how much he missed life back in the U.S.
During that time, he also decided to enlist in the U.S. Army through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest recruitment program.
“The Army was looking for people who speak Swahili, and that happens to be my first language,” he said. “I wanted to join on my own accord, but having my family’s support in my decision to enlist boosted my confidence as well.”
Another goal he was running toward was gaining his U.S. citizenship.
“In 2010, I became a citizen,” Langat said. “It happened at the airport after basic training, and it was one of my proudest moments. My visa changed to citizen; I didn’t even have to get a Green Card – you can’t get a better deal than that.”
Apart from being a linguist at Fort Carson, Langat was also in the World Class Athlete Program.
“Through that program, I traveled a lot,” he said. “I tried out for the 2012 London Olympics in Oregon. I was very close, but didn’t qualify. At that point, I felt like I was satisfied with what I had done, and didn’t mind slowing down. However, running is still a huge part of my life. I participate in half marathons and usually run about 40 miles a week.”
After serving four years on active duty orders in the Army, Langat joined the U.S. Air Force Reserves and currently serves with 6 SOPS.
“I’ve always wanted to be in the Air Force,” he said. “I joined in 2014 and love serving. My unit is a place where I can learn and grow and they have given me all the answers I need. I am thankful for what they have done and want to stay in as long as possible. For me, this is a family and a home.”
His fellow 6 SOPS Airman, Capt. Cuyler Gembol, instructor and satellite system operator, has only been a part of the squadron for a few months, but has already built a strong bond with Langat.
“From day one his attitude has impressed me,” Gembol said. “His story is one of the most unique ones I’ve heard. It is inspiring to see an individual who wants to grow and has worked hard to have more opportunities. It makes you want to go out and do more.”
Looking back at all the experiences and opportunities, Langat expressed how fortunate he feels to make it to this point in his journey.
“I can sum it up and say I’m blessed,” he said. “Many people out there would want to be in this position. None of this happened by accident. The military, especially the Air Force, is a place where people care and know how to lead, and I have made many connections here.”
Throughout it all, he has not forgotten his Kenyan roots and has even brought his journey full circle.
“The coolest thing about Langat is he doesn’t want credit for anything and always has an open heart,” Gembol said. “He extends a helping hand because he loves people and he believes it’s the right thing to do. An example of this is he collects and cleans donated shoes and takes about two full suitcases whenever he travels back to Kenya. He hands them out to kids who want to run and tells them that opportunities are out there and there is a path. I think it’s amazing he was the first to do something like that from his hometown, and others have followed in his footsteps.”
Langat said that his coach from Kenya visits him in the U.S. from time to time.
“My coach has always been a role model in my life,” he said. “When somebody gives you something so life changing, it is a mark nobody can take away. He had an option to help others, but I have to ask myself, ‘why me?’ That’s why I do whatever I can to help others whenever possible. It’s something I love to do.”
Currently, Langat and is wife, Vasity, also a Kenya native, are preparing for the arrival of their first child in February.
“I am looking forward to the day I become a dad,” he said with a huge smile. “I have always been a family oriented person, so this is something very exciting for us.”
For Langat, he lives by his motto “no matter what is coming today, I am ready for tomorrow.”
“Nothing was given to us growing up,” he said. “We grew up with the mindset that if we want something, we have to go out to get it. I’m happy I grew up thinking that way. Throughout life’s challenges, no matter how difficult, I have learned to accept things for what they are and strive to make moments count. That is something I will make sure to teach my future children.”