Profile of a Westmont Veteran

Tristan Williams

Steven Carmona has a story that does not fit easily into any demographic. Though he stands outside of the average Westmont student profile — Hispanic, thirty years old, large tattoos on both arms — he also stands out in a very significant respect: he is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps (USMC).

Born in Ventura, Carmona spent his early childhood raised by his grandmother. Summers were spent at her home in Solvang, and he traveled with her throughout Latin America as she went on business for the rest of the year. This meant he was homeschooled until the age of ten, and the transition to public school proved difficult, so he did not take academics seriously until high school. 

Eventually, Carmona took AP classes, despite often being the only male minority in the classroom. He had great success in receiving acceptance letters and scholarships, but felt a sense of unfulfillment. He explains, “I was doing everything my family and friends were expecting me to do. I was basically staying within my comfort zone … I knew if I stayed in that trajectory, I was not going to grow up as a person.” Thisfeeling drove his decision to join the United States Marines, the impending difficulty proving part of the attraction.

Carmona left for boot camp two weeks after his high school graduation. Stationed in Camp Pendleton, he was deployed to the Horn of Africa, the Middle East, Korea and parts of Oceania over the course of four years. After his second deployment, he flipped a coin on whether to stay in the Marines for twenty years or go to college. “I had a John F. Kennedy half dollar,” he recounts “and it landed on tails.” In the last weeks of his service, he attained the rank of sergeant. 

Readjustment to civilian life proved challenging. He needed a quiet graveyard shift job to mentally recuperate, a process perhaps hindered by two returns to combat overseas through military contracts. Yet, when he was not overseas, he attended Santa Barbara Community College, working toward getting his bachelor’s degree. 

He eventually started working door security at bars and breweries, but this also proved a challenge. The lifestyle he saw around him — “Babylonian in nature,” he jokes — he saw as a spiritual threat. Thus, when considering what school to transfer to, he chose Westmont College, aware of the faith-based community Westmont offers.

Of course, affording Westmont would be an issue. The Post 9/11 GI Bill fully covers public colleges, but not always private tuitions. To afford the rest of the cost, Carmona received federal grants, but the greatest help was from the Ahmanson Fund.

Westmont College helps students’ financial burdens, as well as build facilities like the Global Leadership Center, thanks to Ahmanson Foundation grants. This aid includes a grant that’s specifically part of the Ahmanson Veterans Scholarship Initiative, which lessens the financial cost for veteran students, like Carmona.

Graduating at the end of this semester with a degree in Economics and Business, Carmona is thankful he chose Westmont. He remembers, upon his transfer in the spring of 2019, meeting President Beebe along with all the other transfer students, and how significant that was for him. He recalls, “He sat down, he talked to us, and you don’t really get that in other big public schools.”

The administration has always proved helpful, and the professors have provided academic, vocational and spiritual support. While he lives on campus, he admits there is a social gap between him and most students, due to not only his age, but the experiences that led him here. Yet, as one talks with him, one gets the notion such things do not hinder him. Wearing his USMC sweatshirt, he defies the categories and expectations put upon him, and stays proudly, firmly, himself. 

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