Veteran Profile: Life lessons from Marine service |

Veteran Profile: Life lessons from Marine service

Mandy Feder

When 19-year-old Karl Koeppen enlisted in the Marines in 1991, he was determined to serve his country in Operation Desert Storm.

During boot camp he learned that he would not be reporting to the Middle-East. The conflict had ended.

Koeppen, a self-made man, began working at age 12. He bought his own school clothes, which he said, "Gave me a lot of respect for earning and not simply being given things."

His work ethic lent itself to his success in the military. His last assignment as a Sergeant (E-5) in the Marines was working for Gen. Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., who was an astronaut on six space shuttle missions and is the current Administrator of NASA.

During a leave the New York native met a South Lake Tahoe native, Kellee, who would later become his wife.

They settled down in her hometown and Koeppen found employment at the Department of Public Works. He later attended Lake Tahoe Community College with his sights set on becoming a firefighter. Koeppen began in the reserves with the city and was hired just more than two years later.

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Today he goes by the title of South Lake Tahoe Fire Shift Commander Koeppen. He credits his time with Marines for fostering in him a sense of pride, accountability and focus.

He and Kellee have two children, Karlee, 14, a freshman at South Tahoe High School, and Kade, 11, who attends the same school where Kellee teaches eighth-grade algebra — South Tahoe Middle School.

Koeppen said he has a vested interest in the community as a fire commander and Kellee has a vested interest as a South Lake Tahoe native and a teacher.

Koeppen earned his black belt in karate about a year ago. His children followed suit and anticipate testing for their black belts at Escobar Training Grounds, where the whole family works out.

The training resonates with Koeppen and mirrors his own military experience, which he said teaches accountability, respect, focus and self-defense.

A military veteran, a father, a husband, and an emergency services professional, Koeppen attributes his successes to his dependability and the knowledge that "Your word is your honor."