Growing Up to Be a Warrior
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Growing Up to Be a Warrior

October 31st, 2018 | 5 min. read

Meet retired Marine Corps Major and First Command Financial Advisor Chris Merrill.

On a sunny day in April 2017 Major Chris Merrill stood in front of the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial at Asan Beach, Guam to mark a momentous occasion in his life: a retirement ceremony commemorating his 20 years of service. The site of an historic Marine Corps amphibious landing during the 1944 effort to free the island from occupying Imperial Japanese Forces, Asan Beach was the perfect backdrop for Chris to say thank you to many people who supported him during his time in the Marine Corps. It also gave him a chance to say goodbye to the career he had planned on pursuing since he was a child. 

“I mean, I had military posters and model planes up all over my room when I was a kid!” Chris reminisced.

Growing up, Chris had the common childhood dream of becoming a warrior, but with an extensive family legacy of military service, Chris’ picture of a warrior wasn’t a fictional superhero wearing a cape. It was an individual donning a military uniform. This dream sustained him through high school and eventually brought him to the Naval Academy, where he hoped – at least at first – to become a Navy Jet Pilot. But that quickly changed. 

“Once I arrived, I realized that the Marine Corps was a better fit. Their ethos of ‘Mission first, Marines always’ really resonated with me,” Chris expressed. “When I joined, it felt almost like the Corps picked me, not the other way around.”

What drew Chris to the Marine Corps was their sense of brotherhood and dedication to mission – two things he relied on heavily when he found himself at war, post-9/11. But for Chris, this brotherhood was just as important in his personal life as it was in his professional life. Because in the midst of Chris’ five combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he and his wife, Beckie, decided it was time to start a family. Remembering an experience they had together in college, they decided to focus on adopting children.

“We were watching the play, Miss Saigon. No spoilers, but the ending is pretty heart wrenching,” Chris explained. “We turned to each other and were like, ‘We’re so totally adopting at least one child!’”

But the adoption process is often time consuming and requires flexibility – something that’s often hard to come by for service members. Thankfully, Chris’ fellow Marines and his commanding officers were more than willing to pick up some of the slack, so he could be involved in the process. Over the next several years, Chris and Beckie went through the adoption process four times, in both Guatemala and Ghana. By the time they received PCS orders to Guam, they had welcomed six children to their family. In Guam, the Merrill’s were able to join a community that matched their family’s diversity. 

“That was one of my favorite things about my retirement ceremony,” Chris expressed. “My kids were surrounded by people coming from all over the world, representing so many different cultures and religions.”

Surrounded by this diversity, the Merrill family has flourished. So when the time came for Chris to retire from the Marine Corps, the decision was simple: They would stay in Guam rather than move back to the mainland. Deciding what he would do for his second career, however, was a little more difficult for Chris. Not particularly excited about the idea of entering the business world, Chris had a lot of questions when he considered pursuing a career with First Command.

“I had so many questions that the interview seriously lasted two hours,” Chris explained. “But coming aboard was a great decision for me. This is not the version of corporate America that I was preparing to endure after my time in uniform. It’s far better!”

At the office, Chris has been able to replicate much of what he loved about the Marine Corps. He has found a new brotherhood with his fellow advisors and support staff. Affectionately coined Team GUNG HO – a phrase that the Marine Corps adopted during WWII meaning “work together” – they are committed to pursuing the same vision: helping as many service members as they can find lifelong financial security. 

“It’s just like how I felt when I joined the Marines. I feel like First Command picked me,” Chris said. “I’ve found my last career.”

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