FORT WALTON BEACH — Technically, it's the Military and Veterans Resource Center.

Practically, though, the offices and study spaces on the second floor of Building 4 at the University of West Florida's Emerald Coast campus are a haven for active-duty military personnel, veterans and dependents navigating the decisions, paperwork and other challenges of beginning, or continuing, a collegiate career.

Even a partial list of the resource center's services — the cost of which, for participating students, is covered by tuition — is impressive. The office assists with initial inquiries about admission, works with people during the admissions process and registration, helps students navigate tuition assistance programs like the GI Bill, finds tutors and provides a writing lab. Beyond that, the center can reach beyond the campus to find social service and other agencies for students who may need assistance not available on campus.    

"We try to get them whatever they need," said Deborah Cluff, longtime coordinator of the Military and Veterans Resource Center at the Emerald Coast campus. "I may be just one in the office, but there's a wide array of resources for me to reach out to for my students."

And for Cluff, who comes from a military family, "whatever they need" means just that. Working with the MVRC at UWF's main campus in Pensacola, she takes seriously the center's stated commitment to provide "concierge-level" services to veterans, active-duty personnel and military dependents, to the point that she just naturally calls them "my students." 

As just one example of the level of service Cluff provides to her students, consider the active-duty military student deployed to Afghanistan while at UWF Emerald Coast.

"They found out the first week of class that the textbooks did not arrive, and thought they had to drop the class," she said. "So what we did was make sure that they had email access, and then I worked with the academic department. We copied some of the pages they needed to get through the next assignment or two. We talked with the bookstore to figure out what went wrong (and found out) it was (a problem) with an APO (military mail) address. But we were able to get the textbook to them and not have them drop."

Generally, Cluff said, "If we know that they're deploying, we will try to work with the instructors to see if there are alternative ways that they can turn in course work."

Tyler Retzloff, a 28-year-old Army veteran who is in his last semester before graduating with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, has a more typical story. When he arrived in the area about three years ago after serving as a military police officer with the Army in Germany, he came to the MVRC to talk with Cluff about VA benefits.

Since then, he's used Cluff and the MVRC to find out about scholarships, to get help with transferring grades from another institution, and, most recently, to explore options for pursuing a master's degree. His path through college has been made more difficult by a traumatic brain injury — not directly service-related — that has left him suffering frequent migraine headaches.

For Retzloff, having Cluff and the MVRC available has been an indispensable part of his collegiate experience.

"I don't know if I would be where I am today if I hadn't had the help and support that I've received," he said. "I feel like at some point I might have given up and said 'Screw it,' and just lost the motivation and the drive."

Also among students currently relying on Cluff and the MVRC is 27-year-old Chris Gorman. His father is retired from Hurlburt Field, and Gorman is taking advantage of a G.I. Bill program that allows military personnel to transfe benefits to spouses and dependents.

"This is my lifeline for school," said Gorman, who is a couple of semesters away from earning a degree in electrical engineering, during a recent visit to the MVRC. Among the "concierge-level" services that Gorman received was Cluff, through her networking skills, tracking down an internship at Eglin Air Force Base that is setting Gorman up on a career track.

Also currently taking advantage of the MVRC is Syreeta Blake, whose husband will be stationed at Hurlburt Field for the next two years. During that time, Blake will be working on a degree in social work.

"Without this office, I would be so lost," she said. During one visit to the MVRC, Blake brought her year-old daughter to Cluff's office, and Cluff watched the child while Blake handled some academic business.

"If they say that they have a need, we try to figure out how to get it taken care of," Cluff said. "There's no mountain too tall."