back to news April 24, 2017

Gretchen Klingler: Ohio State’s First Military Student of the Year

Gretchen Klingler, a second-year student majoring in cultural anthropology and Arabic language and literature, is a first-generation Buckeye from West Liberty, Ohio. She is an Air Force veteran and president of Vets 4 Vets, Ohio State’s chapter of Student Veterans of America.

For her dedicated work with veterans on campus, Klingler was awarded Ohio State’s first Military Student of the Year award at the inaugural Ohio State Military Ball, held on Feb. 18.

“I focus a significant amount of energy making sure that Ohio State military and veteran students are welcomed into our community and have a fluid transition out of the military and into college life,” said Klingler.

Mike Carrell, assistant provost and director of the Office of Military and Veterans Services, said Klingler was selected by her peers for her dedicated work with veterans on campus.

“Whatever it might be, from our orientations for new students to social events to academic support events, she’s at those events, she promotes those events, she encourages other students to go (and) she encourages other students to get involved,” Carrell said.

For Klingler, being selected as the university’s first Military Student of the Year award is humbling.

“To me, this award means that our veterans and military members at Ohio State are connecting, growing and thriving both during and after their service to our country, and I have been honored to be a part of that success," said Klingler. “However, this award could not have been developed without a number of deserving veterans to be nominated for it, which says so much about our student veterans and the ways in which Ohio State supports our success.”

Klingler served six years as a Career Enlisted Aviator and Tactical Systems Operator, providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information on targets from airborne assets. She accrued more than 300 combat flight hours. Klingler was deployed twice: once to Afghanistan in 2013 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and once in 2014 to Djibouti and Iraq in support of OEF and Operation Inherent Resolve. She learned Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and served as a stand-in translator while she was in Iraq, building connections between her unit and local contract workers.

Coming to Ohio State

“I chose Ohio State because I had always wanted to be a Buckeye, and anthropology was a perfect fit for me,” said Klingler. “I am naturally inquisitive about culture. I love learning about languages and religions, customs and taboos, food and subsistence practices, and gender roles and social structures. When I learned about the field of anthropology, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head – I had found my purpose.”

Klingler currently serves the department as secretary of the Undergraduate Anthropology Club.

When Klingler arrived at Ohio State in fall 2015, she immediately became involved in the veteran community because she wanted to plug into a group of people who could directly relate to her experiences. And, equally important, she wanted to be involved in and contribute to the university community. 

“Being mostly non-traditional students, living off campus and having had vastly different life experiences than the general student population, it’s difficult for veteran students to relate to and fit into the traditional college atmosphere.”

Vets 4 Vets

Vets 4 Vets works to engage student veterans in activities on campus and in the Columbus community. The organization holds biweekly meetings, participates in campus and local events and career-building opportunities, and dedicates a great deal of time to volunteering in the community. They often host local businesses, nonprofit organizations and corporations to share a wide range of information to student veterans. Under Klingler’s leadership, Vets 4 Vets active membership has tripled in the last academic year.

“Being a part of the veteran community at Ohio State is very important to me, because it means I don’t have to leave a part of my life behind or forget my experiences that have brought me here.”

Gretchen Klinger earns @OhioState's first Military Student of the Year award for her work with Vets 4 Vets #ASCDaily

Looking ahead

Klingler will be attending the Expeditions Ethnographic Field School in Malta this summer, where she will focus her research on the cultural perceptions of irregular migration. Additionally, Klingler will be working with Anthropology Professor Jeff Cohen on the Ohio State Global Mobility Project, where she will be researching how Iraqi women adjust to their lives in the United States — specifically, how they manage language barriers and how they respond to increasing xenophobia, cultural expectations and religious misconceptions as they work to adapt to American culture.

“My current career goal is to obtain a PhD in cultural anthropology or a related field,” said Klingler. “I would like to use my experience to educate others on human interaction and the human experience, to work in resettlement and adjustment of immigrant and refugee populations, or to work closely with businesses that want to break into new markets in a culturally appropriate way.”

Klingler will graduate in spring 2019.