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Going to College on Active Duty: AIU Alumnus Justin Kloppe's Story

Image: going to college while on active duty

It can be hard to find a place and time to complete your studies when you have a full-time job and a family—even more so when you're on active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps. AIU Alumnus and U.S. Marine Corps Maintenance Manager Justin Kloppe experienced this firsthand.

"It was a challenge most of the time," admits Kloppe, who began his military career in 2004.

He enjoys his role as maintenance manager, in which he examines how units operate and ensures that they do so within regulations. "I also teach maintenance management to entry-level marines and then teach them again halfway through their [military] careers."

A year after joining the Marine Corps, Kloppe decided to pursue his associate's degree in general studies online at American Military University and got used to figuring out the best times—and places—to study while overseas. "In Iraq ... we had a computer in our hut in Fallujah, so I would stay up at night to do my schoolwork then."

When it came time to move on to his bachelor's degree, Kloppe decided to change schools. "I did a lot of research on schools, course schedules, how long classes were. I was using my GI Bill®, so I knew I wanted something fast-paced [so I could use it before the funding would run out]."

AIU Online fit his needs, so he started his Bachelor of Business Administration degree, choosing a concentration in operations management. It was then that he was able to put a name to a passion he had. "I didn't know what I wanted to do. I knew I liked business, but operations management gave me the ability to tie in my decade of military experience with my degree," he said. "I got a degree related to my job [as maintenance manager]. ... I apply the concepts learned on a daily basis, continually striving for process improvement and efficiency."

Kloppe graduated in 2011 with his bachelor's degree and shortly thereafter, started pursuing his Master of Business Administration, also with a concentration in operations management, at AIU. "I wanted to finish my school," he said.

During his master's program, he really experienced the challenge of completing his schoolwork overseas. Case in point: His go-to study locations were typically bars. "In 2013, I did a lot of traveling and teaching in Japan. At Camp Fuji, the only place with Internet access was a bar there, so that's where I did my research papers. In Iwakuni, Japan, the best Internet I could find was in a bar or this one bowling alley."

Fortunately, he said, AIU understood his situation. "The school is really flexible. ... I talked with my instructors and they understood I would have patchy Internet. They worked with me to get through it. It was a great benefit."

In 2014, he graduated with his MBA and still uses the knowledge from his degrees today as a maintenance manager with the Marine Corps. in Jacksonville, N.C. "The training with my MBA and BBA helped tremendously with my job—it gave me a different mindset. I really enjoy what I do."

Kloppe encourages fellow Marines to pursue their degrees. "Just do it and push yourself. I've heard so many people say, 'There's no time.' Make time," he said. "When I was in Texas, I worked full days in the military and had a two-hour break before I started my second job at Home Depot that went until midnight or later. My kids from a previous marriage lived two and a half hours away, and I found time to fit it all in. People need to sit down and focus."

Within the next year, Kloppe will be making the transition from marine to civilian life. While he hasn't yet decided on his next step, he's considering teaching because of experiences in his current role. He seems to have a talent for it, too: He received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (NAM) in January 2014 for providing more than 370 platform instruction hours, teaching 1,155 students on 67 separate courses, and developing 22 master lesson files.

"It's rewarding," he said. "I'd like to teach adults. I like dealing with the flow of processes. I'd like to teach to change people's mindsets—to think about the process, not just sitting at a desk.

"I look forward to using everything I have learned in my upcoming transition from the Marine Corps."

In addition to his BBA and MBA, Kloppe holds three vocational certificates in Small Business Management, Property Management and Home Inspection. His wife and he live in North Carolina, where they enjoy boating, relaxing and escaping the busyness of everyday life.

Ready to learn more? See how AIU Online works for military students.

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