We have all seen (and bragged about) the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings. The College is the No. 1 National Liberal Arts College again this year. But what has been less publicized is our other claim to fame. We are also the Best College for Veterans this year. I was fortunate enough to speak with three veteran students – Jake Bingaman ’19, Calum Ferguson ’19 and Nils Horn ’19 – to learn about their experiences in the armed forces and at the College so far.
Bingaman, a Navy SEAL originally from Tennessee, has a unique experience as a first-year: He lives off campus with his wife and two daughters. With regards to why he decided to be a Navy SEAL, Bingaman said, “I chose to enlist in the armed forces in 2004. I knew I wanted to go to war, and I wanted to go with the best group that I possibly could, and I felt like that was the Navy SEALs. It’s kind of like joining the NFL and you have your choice of the Patriots or Browns – I’ll be a Patriot.”
Bingaman went on to explain that he served for nine and a half years. “It was a really good experience. It was exactly what I needed to be doing in my 20s,” he said. “It was a great community.” This feeling of being part of a tight-knit community was what eventually led Bingaman to apply to the College. “I’m used to a small community now,” he said. “I felt like I would find that in a liberal arts college more so than a major university. I thought Williams was the best fit for me as a student and for my family as a whole.”
Although Bingaman lives off campus, he had the normal First Days experience. “I did everything,” he said. “I got adopted by an entry – shout out to [Dennet] 4. Everyone has been so welcoming and open that it hasn’t really been challenging.”
Bingaman has had a positive experience thus far in terms of juggling his family life and his life as a student. “It’s been very different than being in the Navy in that I have a little bit of control,” he said. “I’m not used to having this much say in my schedule.” He went on to explain how much he appreciates the free time he now gets to spend with his family.
Ferguson, a Singaporean army veteran originally from the United Kingdom, cited different reasons for his decision to enlist than Bingaman offered. In Singapore, service is mandatory for citizens. Ferguson became a Singaporean citizen in 2012 and served in its army for two years.
“I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, but it was very rewarding,” Ferguson said. “It’s one that I didn’t quite appreciate at the time but I do now that I’m out of the military.”
Ferguson explained that he was placed in command of 64 men initially and was later promoted to second-in-command of 250 men. “Initially, it was challenging in the sense that I had never had that kind of responsibility as a young 19-year-old,” he said of his position. “But then to see the progress that my men made – that made the work I was doing behind the scenes worth it.”
Ferguson went on to explain that he had a somewhat stressful transition to college. “I finished serving at the end of August. Literally on the day of the end of my service, I flew to the U.S. to start international orientation,” he said. “The transition was quite difficult with the jetlag but luckily the international orientation wasn’t too taxing, so it was manageable.”
Like Bingaman and Ferguson, Horn, who is originally from Norway and served there for a year, cherished the relationships he formed while serving in the military. “The people on your team – you form these great relationships that will probably last a lifetime,” he said.
When asked about his experience, he mentioned the physical aspects. “Long marches, draining exercises – you learn to push yourself immensely,” he said. “I walked for five days straight and slept for two hours with only two meals.”
Horn’s day-to-day activities varied. “Some days you have basic training, or sometimes you go out into the forest and pretend you’re in a war,” he said. “Sometimes you have lectures about explosives and then you’ll have a test.” Horn also said he followed a strict, regimented schedule.
As far as his transition to college, Horn echoed Ferguson’s appreciation of no longer being in service. “Coming from the military, towards the end you’re very sick of it. You have pretty monotonous days. There are a lot more interesting people here. It’s also a more intellectual place. It’s going from one extreme to another but I think the transition has been very smooth.”