Steeve Bien-Aimé was a 10-year-old boy growing up in Haiti when he saw a U.S. Marine for the first time. The Marine was holding a gun and loaded with gear, and Bien-Aimé thought to himself, "I would like to see myself as one [of them]."
His admiration came from nearly a lifetime of witnessing the work of Marines and other military aides in his country. By the time he was a senior in high school, rebels had taken over the government in Haiti after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced out and life as he knew it was altered.
While war hasn't always affected U. S. students in this way, Bien-Aimé's life in Haiti was different. His education came to a standstill and he was unable to graduate from high school due to the government being in disarray. That was, until the Marines intervened.
"Because of the Marines, I could graduate high school," said Bien-Aimé, a current UCF student majoring in exercise science, as he looked down at the wooden table searching through memories of his childhood.
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The Marines restored order in the country, he said, which eventually allowed Bien-Aimé to graduate. After graduation, Bien-Aimé went to a four-year university in Haiti, but he still longed for a life in the United States and a career in the military branch he had grown to not only admire, but respect.
Two years later, Bien-Aimé's chance to move to the U.S. and reunite with his mother came right before his 21st birthday. His mother had already moved to Florida in order to give him a better life.
Bien-Aimé left his home that he shared with his aunt and uncle to begin his journey to America.
Bien-Aimé's main goal was always education, so he continued going to college when he moved to Orlando.
During his first semester at Valencia College he found himself already falling into the student loan trap that many American students become victim to. That's when he realized the Marines could help once again. Recruiters told him that they could pay for school while also fulfilling his life-long dreams.
However, Bien-Aimé's voyage to the Marines took a detour when he found out he could not enlist right away. Never giving up on his dream, he decided to join the Navy as a Fleet Marine Force Corpsman with the 1st battalion 9th Marines.
His position as a corpsman allowed him to take care of injured Marines. Bien-Aimé said if he couldn't be an actual Marine, a Navy Corpsman was the next best thing.
In 2013, he joined the Platoon Leader Corps, a program that prepares students to become Marine officers while still in school. He spent 10 weeks at an officer candidate training session in Quantico, Virginia.
Cpt. Benjamin Dulieu, selection officer at the PLC, has helped Bien-Aimé through the process of becoming a Marine officer.
"Steeve represents exactly the type of person we want to join the program. It's easy to find someone who's smart and fit. It's much harder to find someone who has both and a natural leadership ability," Dulieu said.
The most important thing in Bien-Aimé's life is his family and being the best he can be to inspire others.
"So far, day-to-day life, you tend to give in to laziness and how things are hard, but I always think I've had it worse," Bien-Aimé said.
He has always been concerned with human hunger and poverty, because he's seen suffering.
Bien-Aimé's experiences with the Marines have helped open his eyes to a different reality.
After graduation in December, Bien-Aimé's life-long dream of becoming a Marine will finally become a reality. A dream that seemed so far away as a 10-year-old boy in Haiti.