VETERAN OF THE MONTH – Armstrong Pierre-Charles, USMC
By Holly Shaffner
In the debut of a new piece, San Diego Veterans Magazine will spotlight one standout San Diego County military veteran each month. In the inaugural selection, we selected Armstrong Pierre-Charles, United States Marine Corps veteran and recent San Diego State University graduate.
From Haitian immigrant to USMC Corporal to graduate school student – hard work and grit makes him successful.
This business student graduated from San Diego State University in May and is headed to the IESEG School of Management in Paris, France to work on his postgraduate degree. He now has the formal education for business, but it has always been in his blood.
From his humble beginnings in Haiti, Armstrong learned the value of a dollar at an early age. His dad was a businessman and sold rice, oil, charcoal and whatever he could to support his family. The Creole culture is very family-centric and Armstrong has been blessed to have strong family support from his aunts, uncles and cousins. When Armstrong was just nine years old, the island was in a state of chaos. He can remember his classmates being abducted and held for ransom. The Haitian families would sell their homes in an attempt to raise enough money to get their children back and many returned with missing arms and legs.
No matter how much the family loved their culture and their extended relatives, Armstrong’s father knew they had to leave Haiti to seek a better and safer life. Eight family members applied for Visas to America and one day when Armstrong got home from school his father told him that the next day they were leaving. Armstrong packed his belongings into a backpack and flew with his family to Miami to start a new life.
This new life was not easy. Going to school and having a significant language barrier was hard. Living in Miami was hard. Armstrong, his dad and uncle lived in a one room house similar to what San Diegans call a granny flat. He slept on the floor and on a couch and for the next eight years Armstrong would gain the foundational skills to succeed in the rest of his life.
His business experience started in Miami. Money was tight for the family and Armstrong knew that it cost $1 to take the bus to school each way and $2 for food each day. So he found ways to help his father and earn $4 a day to pay his own way. He started by purchasing inexpensive sodas, freezing them and selling them to construction workers. As he earned more money, he bought more sodas and made more profit. He then moved on to sell pens at school and just like his father he wanted to sell items that people needed.
While in high school Armstrong excelled in athletics and academics despite his living situation and chores at home to help his father. He was involved in clubs, played basketball and football, was the captain of his high school wrestling team and graduated with a 3.40 GPA and Diploma of Distinction.
One day a USMC recruiter was at his high school and just like many men and women, he wanted to travel the world and earn benefits to go to college. At that time, he didn’t know of any other branch of service so when he turned eighteen, he took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America” and was off to boot camp at Parris Island.
After his USMC training, Armstrong was transferred to Camp Pendleton. As soon as he reported to his unit, he began taking classes at Palomar College. His supervisors recognized his strong work ethic and encouraged him to become a firearms instructor which he eagerly took on. For the next two years, Armstrong took 12-18 semester units while working full-time and was able to maintain a 3.50 GPA.
It was this kind of dedication and tenacity that made Armstrong an ideal candidate for the USMC’s Leadership Scholar Program. This program is reserved for the cream of the crop of the Marine Corps to gain admission into the finest universities including Ivy League colleges, private universities and local universities such as SDSU.
Gaining admission to SDSU was a huge accomplishment for this first generation college student given his childhood in Haiti, rising from Miami to the Marine Corps, and now to college.
Armstrong was admitted into the business major and focused on the finance emphasis. He graduated in May and as he walked across the stage, he had 18 members of his Haitian family who flew in to cheer him on. His family was incredibly proud of his accomplishment and Armstrong credits his success to the most influential person in his life – his father. He is driven to excel in life and academics so he could show his little sister and five godchildren what they can accomplish too.
Armstrong never strays far from his humble beginnings and is ever cognizant of where he came from and where he wants to go. He says that his success is not for him; but for his family, his community and beyond.
After Armstrong returns to America with his MBA, he desires to work for a financial firm in San Diego and then wants to start a nonprofit in order to give back to his Haitian community. At 24 years old, Armstrong has the life experience of people twice his age. And for this Marine, his future is bright and the possibilities are endless!