Those of a certain age may have certain preconceived notions about today’s college students. They’re often considered to be privileged millennials who stare at their phones, seem ready to embrace “woke” culture and cancel those with certain American values. Fortunately, that assessment doesn’t describe Konrad Ludwig.
He is a millennial, but he’s also about a dozen years older than many of his classmates — who are actually part of Generation Z these days. He certainly doesn’t spend his time staring at his phone, and instead stares down the sights of his Springfield Armory 1911 pistol. As a United States Army combat veteran, Ludwig isn’t your typical student, but then again Hillsdale College — located in southwestern Michigan — isn’t your typical college.
The conservative “liberal arts” college requires every student, regardless of concentration of studies, to complete a core curriculum that includes courses on the Great Books, the U.S. Constitution, biology, chemistry and physics. It is also one of just a handful of centers of higher learning that has a collegiate shooting team, and quite a notable one at that.
Ludwig served in the “Bull” Company, 1st Squadron/2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment and deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, as a radio operator and machine gunner from August 2007 to November of 2008. During that time, he saw frontline combat, including during the 2008 Battle of Sadr City. He is the author of the book Stryker: The Siege of Sadr City (published in 2013), which chronicled his experiences.
Mr. Ludwig was kind enough to take time out of his busy college schedule to share some thoughts on how he went from combat veteran to a dedicated college student.
The Armory Life (TAL): Is it fair to say that you’re not the typical college student?
Konrad Ludwig: Not at all. That is quite fair. I’m a student veteran and I served in the Army from 2005 to 2010. I’m about a dozen years older than most of the students at Hillsdale College.
TAL: What drew you to the school?
KL: I had some experience with software development, so I wanted to complete my studies in math and science. I wasn’t interested in going to a lot of other schools because they didn’t have the curriculum that Hillsdale offered. This school allowed me to work on my own hobby projects.
But at the same time, the undergraduate program is really intense and challenging. I had to really knuckle down, but I wanted to prove that I could do it. I really enjoy that about Hillsdale.
What also drew me to the school was its classical education, which is something you really can’t get anywhere else. That actually provides an environment that is free from many of the distractions on other campuses today.
TAL: Were there any challenges added by being an older student, or did your time in the military help prepare you for such a rigorous curriculum?
KL: Being a veteran absolutely helped. The sheer exposure to the combat mentality can help prepare you for just about any challenge you’ll face in life. I had faced “suck it up or you’ll die,” and it is so much easier to just buckle down and write a paper. A lot of students aren’t used to being pushed so hard, but my time in the military really prepared me to take this seriously.
When I had to pull an all-nighter, it wasn’t really brand new to me. So I can say that my time in the military made college and Hillsdale a whole lot more approachable.
TAL: Were there advantages to being the older student, and I don’t mean being the guy able to buy beer?
KL: I had a real opportunity to be a mentor to some of the younger students, and I think they appreciated my life experiences.
TAL: You are on the shooting team, so did your time in the military give you an advantage? And did you grow up shooting?
KL: Actually, I did not grow up shooting and I was first handed a rifle during basic training. I was never really around guns, so everything I know about firearms was from the military. Of course, that included all sorts of rifles and heavy weapons including machine guns.
I’ve also learned a bit about firearms by watching some videos.
TAL: Do you have any advantages thanks to your time in the military?
KL: Not really. The training at Hillsdale is so much better than anything I had received in the military.
TAL: In what ways?
KL: I didn’t really practice with handguns in the military. I started at the school just as the team was being transformed from a club to a competitive team. Now it is recognized as a varsity sport, and it isn’t just a place for military veterans to go shoot.
Actually one of the best advantages is that I am part of a team, but as a veteran I also had the authority to help our coach Adam out.
TAL: How does being on the shooting team at Hillsdale College impact your academic life?
KL: I’m a fifth year senior actually, and for the first four years I never had less than 18 credit hours — so I was studying math, economics and physics. I was also on the mock trial team and the pistol club and later team.
But the grit you learn in the military, especially the infantry, really helped prepare me for that.
TAL: So it helped allow you to do the 25 hour’s worth of work and studies in the allotted 24-hour long day?
KL: Absolutely. If I didn’t have that experience I might have been crushed. That kept me going at times.
I’ll admit I was bad at math before I came to Hillsdale, but the attitude from the military is that you can’t not learn it. If they can do it, then I can do it. That attitude has gotten me ahead in life.
TAL: How has the team evolved in recent years?
KL: Four or five years ago we didn’t really have trigger time, and now it is very much for real. A lot of this was made possible thanks to our sponsorship from Springfield Armory. This means we have the same guns and ammunition supply for practice.
Having the ability to work with team really has helped prepare us for competition. We went from a club to an official varsity sport. When the buzzer hits, we can handle the stress.
TAL: Has this sponsorship helped in other ways?
KL: It has. It literally made all the difference. The first year as the team was being formed, we’d go to competitions and we were mostly veterans of the military. We went down in our flannel and bears, and we didn’t look like a team. It was like we were guys who pretended to be from a school.
But we didn’t have standardized training. Now we have the standardized firearms, and we can get bulk sale of the same ammunition.
TAL: It sounds like the team has a good future, too.
KL: It does. When we try to recruit now, we are a lot more legitimate. In the past it was hard because most students are still under 21 and they can’t own a handgun. That meant we had to recruit seniors who would start to develop the skills and then they’d graduate.
Now we can recruit freshmen who can hone their skills just like in any other sport. As a result, we’ve become a very competitive team. We can place and even win in nationals (Learn about the team’s win at the Scholastic Action Shooting Program (SASP) College Nationals in March of 2020.)
TAL: As you get ready to complete your college experience at Hillsdale, do you plan to keep shooting competitively?
KL: I’d very much like to continue to compete. I’ll participate more in Steel Challenges and work up to semi-pro. I hope to continue to compete as much as I can. The community is awesome and while I won’t have the opportunity to work with such a dedicated team, I know I’d love to keep on shooting.
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Featured in this video
Stryker: The Siege of Sadr City
Hillsdale College Shooting Sports Education Center