Shenandoah University psychology student Logan Williams ’24 said recently that college wasn’t an option when he was nearing his final years of high school a decade ago.
He never could have imagined that lightning would literally strike, change his life, and ultimately turn him into a college student.
A first-generation college student, Williams took a job at a sports bar at age 15, and while he enjoyed the social interaction that came with the gig, he needed more structure and regimentation in his life. With college off his radar, he began to gravitate toward the military, and though he initially planned to enter the armed forces as a cook, he met an Army infantryman who shared his values and steered him in a different direction.
Williams was 17 when he signed his contract with the U.S. Army and entered the Delayed Entry Program. He spent his senior year of high school preparing himself – physically and academically – for basic training.
A few months after graduating from high school, Williams landed at Fort Benning, Georgia, for One Station Unit Training (OSUT), kicking off an eight-year career in the Army infantry. He served three tours in Afghanistan before medically retiring as a staff sergeant in 2021.
I thrived in it. I really enjoyed it, really excelled. There were a lot of things that you don’t have to think about and a lot of things that you do have to think about. I figured out that balance pretty well, as you do with eight years of doing anything.”
Logan Williams ’24, on his experience in the U.S. Army
Williams said his military experience taught him how to deal with adversity and that “resiliency is dynamic.” A big part of his job, he said, was focusing solely on the mission in front of him, and he learned that personal sacrifice and “shouldering more than your share of the task” were required to complete that mission.
That military experience took its toll, though – even the things that happened outside of combat, like Williams’ bouts with heat stroke and hypothermia, and being struck by lightning.
The latter happened as Williams was wrapping up the final phase of U.S. Army Ranger School between his first and second deployments. Williams recalled he and his fellow soldiers unloading from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in Florida and proceeding into the woods, in torrential rain, to set up a rally point.
Soon, the lightning strikes began and eventually started “hitting all around us.” Chalking it up to a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Williams remembers everything going purple and black.
Williams deployed to Afghanistan shortly after being struck by lightning, delaying his recovery. It was a “little sacrifice” that Williams said he felt he needed to make because he had a job – caring for his soldiers and his team – that was much more important than his personal health.
The lightning strike resulted in a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that required Williams to spend quite a bit of time in occupational therapy, TBI cognitive group therapy, and speech pathology. He eventually developed depersonalization-derealization disorder and had to medically retire from the Army earlier than he had planned.
Williams’ experiences over the past eight years prompted him to further his education in an area of study that would help him better understand what he was going through.
“I wanted to start studying psychology to figure out more about myself, kind of how this came to be, how to adjust,” he said. “It was really interesting, as well, with the integration and to be able to give a voice to someone like me – as I did in the service – in the future, on the outside.”
When Williams was looking for a school, he was sold on Shenandoah because its intimacy was appealing after spending nearly a decade in an environment built on small-team development and camaraderie.
“I wanted to know the people that I was learning with. I wanted to learn with others and not just be in a big crowd,” said Williams, who spoke highly of his interactions with Kelsey Szymanski, Shenandoah’s assistant director for transfer recruitment, and Associate Registrar Niccole Gatliff during the admission process. “They just made it accessible. It almost empowered that feeling that I had: ‘Yeah, you’re in the right place, come here.’”
That feeling is further bolstered by Shenandoah’s planned construction of the Hub for Innovators, Veterans and Entrepreneurs (HIVE), which will be housed in the former National Guard Armory on campus once the building undergoes renovation. The HIVE will allow the expansion of Shenandoah’s existing Veterans, Military and Families Center.
Things like the HIVE, that needs to happen. Things like community engagement, that needs to happen. We need to get together. When you come outside of the military … you don’t have the same bonds. There is that separation. There is that distance, that lack of continuity. To engage and re-engage consistently with each other is beautiful. It’s a really beautiful thing and something that really just inspires me and is going to inspire a lot of creativity, thought and problem-solving in the future for veterans and the community.”