WACO—Baylor Law School student and U.S. Army veteran Stephen Carl would rather talk about his passion for kids than his experiences on the battlefields of Afghanistan, but he can’t deny the common thread between the two—selfless sacrifice.
During a nine-month deployment to eastern Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014, Carl flew medevac helicopter missions into battle zones, where he’d pick up wounded soldiers and evacuate them to hospitals. In battle, he witnessed a selflessness among his fellow soldiers he described as “second nature.”
“You don’t even think about it. You’re trained to do it,” the 30-year-old Houston native said. “Every soldier in the Army, no matter the job, is taught to never leave a fallen comrade. We are brothers in arms, and we look after one another. It’s just ingrained in us as soldiers.”
No one left behind
Carl, a married father of two biological children and three adopted children, said his Christian faith coupled with his soldier’s conviction to leave no one behind is driving him to become a lawyer devoted to helping abused and orphaned kids find hope—and family.
In recognition of his military service and for his mission to help children, Carl was named a 2017 Pat Tillman Foundation Scholar. Tillman Scholars are U.S. service members, veterans and military spouses chosen in recognition of their service, leadership and potential. Of more than 2,000 applicants, only 60 are named each year.
“Stephen is the most humble person I know,” said his wife, Lindsey. “He often tries to distract any attention he may receive, but he is so deserving of the Pat Tillman Scholarship. The Pat Tillman Scholarship focuses on a committed life of service, which is exactly what Stephen has done.”
After Carl returned from Afghanistan in 2014, his family—including their young son and daughter—turned their attention to fostering and adoption.
“Even before we were married, Stephen and I both knew we wanted to adopt,” Lindsey Carl said. “A couple of years ago, before we entered the adoption process, we chose a Bible verse to define our mission as a family, which is 1 John 4:19, which says, ‘We love because he first loved us.’ This verse is truly one of the core reasons why we pursued adoption. We, ourselves, were orphans spiritually, and yet our heavenly Father chose and adopted us as his children.”
Soon after their approval as foster parents, the Carls welcomed three little girls into their home, all siblings. Those girls eventually became permanent members of the family in 2015.
Lawyers can help ‘change the world’
During the legal stages of the adoption process, something churned in Carl’s heart. He’d been searching for his next steps after the military, and he realized how lawyers can affect change and make things happen.
“My mind was blown by how powerful the legal profession is,” he said. “Not the kind of power that makes you rich and famous, but the kind of power that helps you change the world. The lawyers who helped us helped change the world for my little girls that we adopted.”
After much prayer and consulting his wife and his father, he began exploring law schools. His goal was to find a place that offered a strong commitment to service and one that would help him get the training he needed to help kids like his.
“My heart is with these kids in the Texas child welfare system who don’t have a home, and I know there are a lot of things that can only be solved by lawyers,” he said. “A lot of the issues are legal issues, and so that put the little spark in me to go to law school, get a law degree and help people.”
Stephen visited several law schools, including Baylor Law School.
He and his wife ultimately chose Baylor, he said, because of its proven commitment to service. They packed their belongings, loaded up their five kids and moved to Waco in May. He took his first class this summer.
‘A call to serve’
“The law profession is a call to serve,” he said. “That was made very clear from the first time I visited the school. It’s not just a pitch to get students. It’s taught in the classroom.”
Since 2010, Baylor Law School students have devoted more than 4,000 recorded hours to pro bono efforts and, subsequently, the American Bar Association honored Baylor Law School with the 2015 Pro Bono Publico Award for its commitment to providing volunteer legal services for the poor and disadvantaged.
Among its many initiatives, the law school’s pro bono and public service programs include the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals Immigration Clinic, the People’s Law School, Pro Bono and Public Service Program, and the Veterans Assistance Clinic.
But the program that interests Carl the most is the law school’s annual Adoption Day, an event organized by faculty, staff and students in collaboration with the Baylor Law Public Interest Legal Society, the Waco-McLennan County Bar Association and the McLennan County office of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
In December 2016, a record-breaking 41 children were adopted during Adoption Day at the law school. Professor Bridgette Fuselier, director of Adoption Day, said she’s excited to have Carl at the law school.
“He already knows—and lives—the meaning of service,” Fuselier said. “He served our country in the military, he served as a foster parent to children he ultimately adopted, and as a lawyer he will serve his community and the justice system. Stephen is dedicated and focused on his calling. He is going to be an incredible Baylor lawyer.”
Carl said he’s a firm believer in God guiding his steps. He said he knew the next step was law school. What follows is unknown.
“I’m stepping in with a desire to help—not knowing how to get to the end result,” he said. “I want to live a life that changes the world by making a difference that outlives me, doing that through helping other people.”