RENO – Airman 1st Class Rita Middleton overcame a bad break in her childhood to become one of the most decorated individuals in the Nevada Air Guard. Within the past few months, she’s received the Nevada Air Guard’s 2013 Airman of the Year award and the 152nd Operations Group Commander’s Award for Excellence.
Middleton, 25, suffered compound fractures to her tibia and fibula and severe burns on her leg at age 13 when she was struck by a car in Reno while saving the life of her 3-year-old God-brother, Marcus Gage. The collision left Middleton with rods in her leg along with screws in her knee and ankle.
Gage was also left with a broken leg in the incident, Policemen and doctors told Middleton, however, that his injuries would have been worse – even life-threatening – if she hadn’t interceded.
Middleton then went through several years of physical therapy learning to walk again. All told, she had a half dozen operations on her leg to repair the damage caused by the collision..
“I was an athlete in childhood who had played basketball and ran track, so I wanted to work hard to get back to doing those sports,” Middleton said.
She continued to recover from the injury and was on the cusp of making the Reed High basketball team in 2002. But a collision with a teammate during the final practice before the opening-season game loosened a screw and forced yet another operation.
Eventually, Middleton became physically qualified to serve in the military and she enlisted in the Air Guard in 2011
“I enlisted to be a part of something bigger than myself and to do something rewarding,” said Middleton, an aviation resource manager.
Soon after her enlistment, Middleton deployed to Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, for four months in support of Operation Enduring Freedom
“The deployment was not what I expected,” Middleton said. “I didn’t expect my contribution to affect the mission. I was mistaken -- my job directly affected the mission. That made an impact on me.”
In October 2013, she participated in another highly-visible deployment when she supported the Coronet Oak mission in Puerto Rico.
Today, the Sparks resident is a full-time 192nd Airlift Squadron technician who spends many hours each month helping others. She cooks and serves meals at the Reno Gospel Mission monthly and volunteers at school assemblies and in a Head Start classroom. She also assists with The Evelyn Mount Community Outreach Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives. She is also nearing the completion of her bachelor’s degree in communications at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“I enjoy volunteering, giving back to the community and inspiring kids and adults,” Middleton said. “You can succeed in life with hard work and dedication.”