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Challenge accepted, perspective gained

Put a pin on a map on the corner of Scott Street and N. Upper, where the Taylor Education Building sits on the gently rolling University of Kentucky campus. Now, put a pin on Baghdad, Iraq.

As maps go, it’s a long way from one pin to the other. And yet, the two pins have a common connection: Stephanie Carpenter.

Students and colleagues know her as the force who keeps the STEM Education Department humming, an administrative associate who also serves as the College of Education staff council chair, but that’s only the surface of her story.

Carpenter enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in September 2001. Amid the turmoil of that time, she was clear and focused. She wanted to serve her country like her father, a 30-year Air Force veteran.

Carpenter was stationed at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Florida, and Balad Air Base in Baghdad, Iraq.

“The greatest challenge was being deployed in another country during wartime and being unsure if I would make it back to my family,” Carpenter said.

From one pin on the map to another, Carpenter found a new perspective.

“There are things I would have never experienced or seen if I hadn’t joined, and I know I probably wouldn’t have the perspective or mentality I have now if I never served,” she said. “Being a veteran comes with memories – good and bad – that have helped make me who I am today. I am more fearless and embrace challenges that others may try to avoid altogether. I see each day as a good day because I’ve been places where things are pretty bad and it makes me a lot more grateful.”

Carpenter served for six years and continues to be inspired by the relationships forged while in the Air Force. On days like Veteran’s Day, she appreciates the acknowledgment extended to those who served.

“Veterans are some of the bravest people you will ever meet. Some of the best stories come from veterans. We continue to put others before us even though we no longer serve. Veterans will never stop serving or wanting to serve in some way,” she said.