(Photo: Alix Idrache is congratulated after his graduation ceremony. / Credit: U.S. Army)
“What does that mean to you?”
Alix Idrache, a Haitian immigrant and recent graduate from the U.S. Military Academy, wept, looked up on the American flag. His lips began to quiver and tears flowed from his eyes.
Although there were 1,000 young men and women enjoying the pageantry and traditions of a West Point graduation that day, Idrache’s elation was tempered by tears of awe and gratitude. In just seven years, Idrache escaped his impoverished community in Port-au-Prince and graduated from one of the most prestigious universities in the world, embarking on a promising career that is a far cry from the working class neighborhood in which he was raised.
Idrache first became aware of the service of the American military when U.S. forces conducted humanitarian missions in Haiti. He marveled at the innovative technology, especially the Chinook, that American troops used. But flying one of those cutting edge helicopters seemed like a lofty dream for a boy who grew up in a country plagued by widespread poverty, civil unrest and natural disasters.
“People where I’m from don’t grow up to be pilots, right? Like they don’t dream of flying a helicopter, that’s not something you do,” Idrache told a U.S. military reporter this week. “You don’t just say I’m going to be a pilot and make it happen. There’s no aviation, there are no helicopters, no flight schools. There’s none of that.”
“People where I’m from don’t grow up to be pilots, right? Like they don’t dream of flying a helicopter, that’s not something you do”
Idrache and his family knew that the key to a better life was a good education. His father, Dieujuste (French for “Just God”), dropped out of school at the age of 14 to provide for his family, leaving his countryside home to earn a wage in Haiti’s capital city. For the elder Idrache, his greatest hope was that his children had the opportunities he didn’t.
“My dad always said, ‘Education is the only gift I can always give you, because I don’t have anything material to give,” Idrache explained.
Idrache took his dad’s wisdom to heart. He spent his teenage years studying, hoping he could have a better future. Meanwhile, his father immigrated to the U.S., and later, Alix joined him. In order to facilitate his legal status in America, the young Haitian enrolled in the Selective Service System.
Idrache ended up in the Maryland Army National Guard in part, he jokes, because they gave him a free t-shirt. After graduating from Army Combat Basic Training and his Advanced Individual Training, Idrache received a West Point bumper sticker from his sister, then a high school junior, who found it at a college fair.
His platoon leader, then-2nd Lt. Larry Halverson, gave Idrache the information to begin the application process to the U.S. Military Academy. His military mentors provided him support along the way, cheering him on as he earned a Congressional appointment and, ultimately, acceptance to one of the most prestigious institutions in the world. Just a few years after entering the U.S. with broken English and little more than dreams, Idrache entered the 214th class of West Point cadets.
Throughout the process, his early mentors in the U.S. Army stood at the ready to help him whenever he needed it. His efforts paid off. He earned the Brigadier General Gerald A. Counts Memorial Award for the highest rating in physics. This week, he graduated top of his class in that field.
This July, Idrache will join the Army Aviation Center for Excellence at Fort Rucker, Ala. For a young man who was once a little boy with dreams of flying, West Point – and a lot of love and support from family and professional mentors – helped him find his wings in the United States of America.
Ellen Carmichael is a senior writer for Opportunity Lives. Follow her on Twitter @ellencarmichael.