When Erica Klenk decided to add a welding diploma to her educational tool bag, she needed help navigating the veteran-specific benefits and enrollment process.
“It can be a little confusing,” Klenk said. “I really didn’t know how to use (my G.I. Bill). I didn’t know what paperwork to do.”
She found the support she needed at Fayetteville Tech’s All American Veterans Center, utilizing the resources there to take the next step in furthering her career.
Klenk is one of nearly 3,000 veterans enrolled at FTCC, and the AAVC was established six years ago to provide support to help veterans and military dependents succeed.
Wanting to help other veterans and military dependents with their own educational pursuits, Klenk decided to join the center, taking a work-study position there in fall 2019.
“It was a work-study student who took me into one of the back offices and helped me with all the paperwork that I needed to get,” Klenk said. “And I remember asking him, ‘How do I get your job? This is awesome.’”
For her efforts at the Center, Klenk has been selected as a 2020 recipient of the Student Veteran Leadership Award. The award is given by VIQTORY, which named FTCC the fifth-best Military Friendly large community college in the nation for 2020-21.
The full list of Student Veteran Leadership Award winners will be published in the August issue of G.I. Jobs magazine.
Fayetteville Tech’s Director of Veterans Programs Tony Murphy nominated Klenk for the honor.
“She uses her own experiences as a student as an example of what can be achieved by attending FTCC,” Murphy said. “All of us at the All American Veterans Center are proud of her accomplishments. I think this is what (FTCC President Dr. J. Larry Keen) envisioned when he established the AAVC back in 2014.”
Klenk’s work at the AAVC is her latest role dedicated to helping people, a pursuit she followed during her own military career.
The 36-year-old grew up as a self-described “Army brat,” born overseas, though she claims Detroit as her hometown. She joined the military after graduating high school, leaving for basic training in August 2001.
“I joined the Army for college money and job experience,” she said. “I joined the Army to be a police officer, and I loved it.”
Klenk served as a military police officer for almost a decade before transitioning to work in Civil Affairs. The change brought her to Fort Bragg in 2010.
“You’re doing a lot of humanitarian missions, and you can see the effects of what you’re doing,” Klenk said. “It was rewarding. That’s what kept me in the military.”
Klenk separated from the Army in 2015, ready to take on new challenges.
“The military set me up. They sent me to a lot of schools that broadened my career in the military but also set me up for when I was on the outside,” Klenk said. “I just felt comfortable getting out of the military and moving on, trying something new, but also knowing that I had that safety net of being able to do some of the things I did while I was in the military.”
Doing something new actually turned out to be reconnecting with an old love — motorcycles. Klenk enrolled at the Motorcycle Mechanic Institute and rediscovered that passion. She worked at Fort Bragg Harley Davidson for two years.
“I’ve always had a love and passion for motorcycles. I get that from my dad,” Klenk said. “I started realizing that I like race motorcycles and going fast, building things, which is what brought me to FTCC and the welding program.”
Despite having attended MMI earlier, where Klenk said a recruiter did almost the entire enrollment process for her, Klenk needed help figuring out how to maximize her benefits to enroll at FTCC.
The resources and staff at the AAVC helped her make quick work of it, setting her on her way to earn her Welding Diploma.
She’ll complete her coursework in August and is looking ahead to her next challenge.
“I’ve learned so much at FTCC and the instructors are incredible,” Klenk said. “I’m excited to graduate and move on and do this for real, learn from the guys and gals in shops and just get better.”