May 26, 2011
In a lecture class at MU, Nick Kundert feels like the oldest guy in the room. After growing up in St. Louis, he joined the military at 17. During his four years with the Marine Corps, he spent time stationed stateside in North Carolina and California and spent 22 months in Iraq during two tours of duty. Although he might be more mature and experienced than the average student, he knows that he wouldn't have the same work ethic or appreciation for education had he not joined the Marines.
"If I went to college right after high school, I would have partied and flunked out the first year — easily," Kundert says. "Now, I have a better idea of what I want to do. I'm able to apply myself."
Even with a more focused direction, Kundert says the transition from the military to MU wasn't easy. Learning how to study again, take notes and remember math was difficult, he says. In addition to relearning the technical skills as a student, it has been hard for Kundert to relate to the other students on campus.
For veterans, school is like a job, he says. Seeing other students not take school seriously, text and use Facebook during lecture can be disconcerting. He says it's hard to relate.
Because of this, the veterans on campus generally stick together. They don't have to tell their stories every time they meet someone new, and they can avoid the questions many people think but shouldn't ask. "The one question we get is, 'Did you kill anybody or shoot anybody?'" Kundert says. "That's like saying, 'Hey, is your grandmother dead yet?'"
Fortunately, Kundert never had to fire his weapon during the two years he spent in Iraq. But that doesn't mean he wasn't fired at. "If you hear the boom, you're good because that means it wasn't you," Kundert says. After getting mortared every day, he says it was easy to just become numb to it. But one time in particular, it was close enough to shake him up: "I could hear this noise of the mortars getting louder and louder," he says. "They were locking in the mortars to my antennas. The last one hit right next to the bunker I was near. It threw dirt everywhere. I don't want to say I was scared, but it was definitely a point where I realized I was helpless. There was nothing I could do."
Even with a close call, Kundert says he doesn't suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder like many others, but his outlook has changed. As the former vice president of the Mizzou Student Veterans Association and a former employee at the MU Veterans Center, he has made it his goal to help other veterans feel welcome at MU and become a part of the community they have established. After graduation in December, he hopes to work with veterans on education benefits.
Kundert says the things he misses the most about being in the military are the close relationships. "I joined the Marine Corps for my country," Kundert says. "But in the end, it was all about the guys around me, the brotherhood that was built between us."