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A week before Capt. Brian Jacobs joined the Navy, he was flying a kite with a friend who moments later he saw shot multiple times in his native Los Angeles.

Long before that, people close to him had been involved in gangs, including his own older brother, who died as a result of the violence.

So, when another brother was planning on joining the Navy some 35 years ago, Jacobs said it didn't take long for him to leave his job at a drug store ice cream counter, and head to boot camp himself.

“I look at the Navy as being a great reward for me,” he said last week from his office at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, where he heads the Common Aviation Support Equipment Program Office (PMA-260). Jacobs said he went from earning a GED in 1978 and enlisting as a gunner's mate, to eventually being promoted to chief petty officer and applying for a program that would allow him to join the officers corps.

Jacobs was commissioned as an aviation maintenance limited duty officer in 1991 and, as tradition goes, was sent off to what is informally called “knife and fork school” to learn etiquette. The term “an officer and a gentleman” is real, Jacobs said, laughing. During those years of making rank, Jacobs said, he also volunteered to go to sea.

“It was something I enjoyed doing, and I was advancing.” He later earned a bachelor's degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and a master's from the Naval Postgraduate School. Today, NAVAIR spokesmen said, he's the only African-American program manager at the command.

His life now is vastly different from his growing up years. Jacobs said his father, a World War II Navy veteran from Missouri, left his mother, who then raised seven children alone. Jacobs was 7 at the time.

His mother worked as a nurse, but worried about her family and the turmoil surrounding them. “It was just Mom and us,” he said. “She had to work so much harder.” That same father, Jacobs said, has since come back into his life and said he's proud of his son's accomplishments.

During his career, Jacobs said, he's helped the Navy manage risks, but none of them have been as trying as his past. “It doesn't compare to the things I've seen in my life.”

“I wish we could have a time machine to go back and look at how he grew up,” said Command Master Chief Dwayne Huff, who serves aboard the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier based in Virginia. “Sometimes people in the military see the end result. They don't see the trials and tribulations you go through. They don't see the road you took to get there. They don't see the studying or the time away from your parents, or your wife or your kids.”

For every step taken, whether intentional or by divine intervention, there was a reason, Huff said. Jacobs is “telling people if he can do it, you can do it.”

Jacobs took the helm of PMA-260 in late May and is responsible for more than $7 billion worth of equipment — including anything from fire trucks and cranes, air conditioners and test equipment supplied to the fleet — and Jacobs said he's pushing to ensure some of his team's products will be used in support of Joint Strike Fighter, the Navy's most advanced jet. Before his current post, Jacobs served as the Naval Air Systems Command military director for the Logistics Maintenance Planning and Sustainment Department, (AIR-6.7), according to NAVAIR archives.

“Look at where he's at now,” Huff said. Huff met Jacobs in 1987 at his first command, and said Jacobs, then a chief petty officer, was responsible for him staying in the Navy, studying harder for promotions and taking the first steps to earn a college degree. Huff said he's now working toward a master's degree.

Huff said he never thought he could advance to command master chief, especially aboard a carrier. “Never in a million years.

“If he ever calls me, I'll be there for him,” Huff said. “I'm telling you now, he's just an inspiration.”

Jacobs sat behind his desk and only smiled when asked what he thought about being an inspiration to others.

“When I meet people, I just tell them my story,” he said. “It's been a great ride.”