Local couple Ethan and Karina Stepp aren’t your typical mom and dad. Aside from both being U.S. Marine Corps veterans, the Stepps are full-time parents to six children while also attending classes at Blue Ridge Community College.
Although Ethan is a Hendersonville native, Karina is originally from California. Both served in the military for nearly a decade, with Ethan starting in 2010 and Karina in 2011.
“I mainly joined the military for financial reasons,” Ethan said. “At that time I had a partial football scholarship to a small private university nearby, but my parents were talking about each of them having to work two jobs just to put me through school, so I knew I had to consider other options. My brother had just joined the Army, and he was telling me all about the benefits veterans get for school.”
While he planned to remain in the military for four years then return to Hendersonville for college, Ethan realized how easily plans can change and ended up serving two contracts, totaling nine years.
Karina was a different story, as she wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to do as a career upon her high school graduation, but had experience with the Marine Corps JROTC program in her high school. After hearing from Marine recruiters who’d come to chat with seniors, Karina decided to enlist, and went on to serve for eight years.
The couple initially met in 2014 when they served in the same battalion, the Second Law Enforcement Battalion, where they quickly hit it off. During this time, Ethan was deployed at different times to Colombia, Guatemala, Afghanistan and Africa. The only lingering fear they faced was the fact that once reenlisted, a pair of Marines run the risk of being sent to bases on completely different sides of the country.
Once Ethan knew where he was going, Karina requested orders to the same location, and they both moved to Yuma, Arizona. There Ethan served as a Criminal Investigator and Karina as a Career Retention Specialist. They later married in 2016, and eventually exited the military only five days apart.
Ethan already had three young boys from a previous marriage, and Karina had two girls. Several years later, they had their first child together — a son — topping the list at six children with ages ranging from nine to 1.5.
Although caring for six kids is challenging, Karina said their V.A. benefits make it a possibility to attend school. Both of them receive a housing allowance and book stipend, and both still qualify for financial aid.
The timing of their own schooling and their children’s classes also align perfectly, with both parents leaving their classes just in time to pick up their kids.
When looking for a college to continue their education, the couple looked at several local options, but chose Blue Ridge Community College because of its transfer programs, much easier starting process, smaller classroom settings and proximity to home.
“Blue Ridge’s transfer program is great, because it’s set up so we can transfer to any UNC campus after we graduate,” Karina said. “We both moved here last year, and I wasn’t sure what all our options were. It’s like a little family at Blue Ridge.”
The couple was happy to hear the College has its own Veterans Club, and hopes to get involved with it in the future as they work toward their bachelor degrees.
Although the pair is now living a civilian life, Ethan says the military left a lasting impact on both of them. For him, it taught self-discipline after forcing him to grow up quickly. For Karina, leadership and perseverance while overcoming adversity were her greatest takeaways.
“Now when I’m faced with something challenging, I try to look at the glass half-full and be optimistic about the situation. Usually, you’re going to get through it no matter what, but having a negative mindset is only going to make it harder on yourself,” he said.
The couple describes the military as a great resource for anyone unsure of their next steps in life. Ethan said it helps people “find their way,” as they grow, and gives Marines an opportunity to travel, experience different cultures and meet countless people.
Upon graduating from Blue Ridge, Karina hopes to become a sonographer while Ethan aims to be a high school math teacher and football coach.
To learn more about Blue Ridge’s veteran programs, contact Financial Aid Coordinator and V.A. Certifying Official Crystal Smith at (828) 694-1815 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Blue Ridge Community College or to register for classes, visit www.blueridge.edu/admissions.