Victoria Blumenberg did tours of military duty in Kuwait and Baghdad before enrolling at UNC Charlotte earlier this year to study geography.
The transition from soldier to student has been challenging. The 26-year-old Concord resident struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, which can bring flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbing and other problems.
"Outwardly, we're very strong," Blumenberg said of military men and women. "On the inside, it affects us just as much as it (would) affect anybody else. We just hide it more."
Yet the former Air Force technical sergeant has been able to expose her fears, confusion, conflict and vulnerability in a collage titled "The Storm."
It's on display at UNCC's Student Union gallery through Nov. 14 as a part of Veterans Week programs.
Works by other members of the UNCC Veterans Club also are part of the exhibition, titled "From Soldier to Student."
Blumenberg cut out words and phrases from newspapers and magazines to create a haunting retrospective, bound in a shiny 24-by-36-inch frame.
Paranoia, hell, addiction and "a mind unhinged" are included among the references to the dark side of her journey.
"Going to war is a very serious thing that we go through," said Blumenberg, president of the Veterans Club. "It would be good for people to remember that."
The large type at the center of the piece reads, "It's been an incredible journey," a nod to times when the intelligence analyst felt pride and a sense of purpose while in uniform.
Angelo Robinson, a marketing major from Indian Trail, helped organize the exhibition because he thought it might help people see soldiers as more than just warriors.
Robinson was a husband and father when he served 10 years in the Navy and was never deployed for combat. Now a senior at UNCC, he has four children. His art, he said, reflects the fullness that his family and friends bring to his life.
His main entry for the exhibition is called "At the End of My Road, She Spoke a Word to Me."
At the end of his military career, Tonyan Hunter, a minister, helped Robinson find his way back into civilian life, he said.
He enrolled in college and hopes to one day work with other veterans, easing their transition by helping them market skills they've acquired.
Hunter is the central figure in Robinson's composition, done in acrylic paint with collage work and photographs as secondary elements.
"Having her as a mentor let me see the bigger picture," said Robinson, 37. "She said there are many ways you can help your country and other veterans and your family. I decided to take that route."