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Marshall grad, veteran home as a recruiter for the ROTC

Nov. 29, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- It's not the path Capt. Stephan Epperly thought his life would take. Not 11 years ago when he decided to enlist in the Army full time to allow him to leave Huntington and see the world. And not 12 months ago when he was in the midst of a yearlong stint in Afghanistan.

But here he is, the new recruiting operations officer for the Marshall University ROTC.

"When I first graduated college (Marshall in 2001), I wanted to get out," said Epperly, a 1995 graduate of Huntington High School. "I had that yearning, so I went active duty."

The 37-year-old's military resume started in high school with JROTC, which he continued for a couple of semesters in college. He joined the West Virginia Army National Guard in 1995, and was always on the move from one part of the state to another, assisting in blizzards and floods.

He joined the Army full time and eventually was stationed in Hawaii. Following a 15-month stint in Iraq in 2007-2008, in which he was promoted to captain, he was transferred to Jacksonville, Fla., were he was a training officer for two years. There, he trained National Guard Reservists before they deployed.

In 2011, Epperly deployed, too, this time for one year in Iraq. It was during this time that he became aware of the recruiting officer vacancy at his alma mater. Typically, he said a person of his rank is not considered for such positions, but he had some high-ranking officers with Marshall ties provide recommendations.

"A lot of officers inquired about this position," said Epperly, who also teaches a military history class. "But I grew up here, I went to school here and served in the West Virginia National Guard."

He found out this past spring that he had gotten the Marshall ROTC assignment, which he started in June. Epperly said it's been a blessing to be back home because he now has an opportunity to help cadets in the ROTC program and help recruit new students from high schools in the region.

"To be here, I'm so excited to have this job," he said. "A chance to work in my hometown and be active duty. And to give back to where you came from and give back to Marshall."

Master Sgt. Derek Heavener, who serves as the senior military instructor for the Marshall ROTC program, said they had experienced a steady decline in cadets in recent years. But he has full confidence that Epperly will help reverse the trend.

"The cadets like to see young and energetic officers," Epperly said, pointing to a 20 percent increase in enrollment this year. He also said he stresses the scholarship money available to ROTC students and, at the core, wants high school students to go to college and get an education. Epperly said he is eager to see ROTC reach new heights and feels some pressure to do because this assignment only goes through 2015.

His new assignment also means catching up on a lot of lost family time, which has been both celebratory and somber. During the summer, his older brother, Thomas, also an Army veteran, died. Thomas' twin, Timothy, had passed away in 2003. Epperly himself has a twin sister, Stephanie Clagg, and, as he likes to point out, all four children shared the same birthday, three years apart.

He said he's gone to church with his mother, Priscilla Sundquist, several times, and would like to start hunting again with his father, Thomas Epperly. He also has plans to finish his master's degree in leadership before his three-year stay is up.

Stephan Epperly

AGE: 37

JOB: recruiting operations officer for the Marshall University ROTC, U.S. Army captain.

FAMILY: mother, Priscilla Sundquist; father, Thomas Epperly; twin sister, Stephanie Clagg; and older brothers (both deceased) Timothy and Thomas.

ABOUT: graduated from Marshall in 2001, was part of the West Virginia National Guard and then joined the Army. Has served a 15-month deployment in Iraq and 12-month deployment in Afghanistan.

HOBBIES: enjoys working out and spending time with friends and family.