Editor’s note: This is one in a series of profiles featuring graduates from high schools in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News readership area.
Moscow High School senior Isaiah McElderry set his sights on joining the U.S. Army from a young age — he wanted to follow in his father’s army-boot footsteps.
After years of looking down the scope, the 18-year-old will pull the trigger on his dream this summer when he starts his military career at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
McElderry will join an elite group of cadets, as the school’s acceptance rate is 10 percent. He said about 12,000 applicants apply each year and 1,200 are accepted. Of the 1,200, about 800 will graduate from the school, which has produced generals and U.S. presidents like Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower.
McElderry said his reasons for wanting to serve changed over the years.
“It shifted from wanting to be a hero like my dad to just wanting to serve because I want to do my part in protecting the freedoms that we have here,” he said.
He decided toward the end of his sophomore year that he would shoot for a West Point scholarship.
Since then, he has tried to build his resume, especially concerning school, sports and community involvement.
McElderry said his GPA is 3.9 and he has taken several honors and advanced placement classes.
For the Bears, he played receiver and safety in football and pole vaulted and ran the 400-meter in track. He served as ASB treasurer his senior year, was a student leader in his youth group and was in the original group of the Moscow Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council.
McElderry said he completed service projects in the community as well and participated in the Idaho Army National Guard Youth Pathfinder Academy, which allowed him to get a taste of what military life will be like.
He also got a taste of West Point last summer when he participated at the school’s Summer Leaders Experience.
The camp allowed him to stay in the barracks, shoot guns and learn the campus. He said about 50 percent of those who are accepted into the summer course end up being admitted to West Point, which boosted his confidence of making the cut.
Nominations from U.S. Sens. James Risch and Mike Crapo and former U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador also increased his chances, he said. A nomination from a U.S. congressman or senator is required for admittance.
After spending half of his high school career trying to get into West Point, McElderry will depart for the prestigious institution at the end of the month for basic training. When he graduates from training, which will be prior to the start of fall classes, he will officially be a cadet.
McElderry said he wants to fly Apache helicopters when he graduates as a second lieutenant in four years.
All cadets are required to serve at least four years upon graduation. If he goes the aviation route, he said he would serve at least six years because of the additional two years of training.
McElderry did not rule out a long military career because of the great salary and benefits.
He said his dad was an infantryman but he told him he could aspire to something greater.
“That’s where I found aviation,” McElderry said. “Flying a helicopter would be really stinkin’ cool.”
But West Point is not all about the Army, McElderry said, noting his degree will help him find a civilian career after his service.
“A degree from West Point is like a degree from Harvard,” he said.
McElderry said he believes he will pursue a bachelor’s degree in space science at West Point and perhaps go for a master’s degree after the Army.
“I don’t want to get stuck behind a desk,” he said. “That sucks. It’s really boring so the Army gives me a really fun time. If I do infantry, I can jump out of airplanes and rappel out of helicopters; I can fly helicopters.”
If he does get stuck sitting at a desk, McElderry said working as an engineer or something related for NASA would be awesome.
“NASA, I think would be really cool to work for,” McElderry said. “I’ve always kind of really liked space.”
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to email@example.com.