STANDING THE WATCH
Former Navy Aviator Chris Marrs leads Blinn's success at the RELLIS Campus
November 8, 2019
In July 2018, Commander Chris Marrs’ 23-year U.S. Navy career was recognized during a retirement ceremony held at the Corps of Cadets Center on the Texas A&M University Campus.
With Blinn College District Chancellor Dr. Mary Hensley and her husband Jim Hensley, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Student Services Karen Buck, and RELLIS Recruiter/Advisor Rebecca Reyes looking on, the master of ceremonies read “The Watch,” a poem traditionally recited at Navy retirement ceremonies reminding the audience of the years the retiree has “stood the watch.” The poem concludes:
Today we are here to say
“Shipmate … the watch stands relieved.
Relieved by those you have trained, guided, and led.
Shipmate, you stand relieved. We have the watch.”
Of course, Marrs’ new watch as the Blinn College District’s Executive Dean of the RELLIS Campus was just beginning. A few months earlier, Marrs was serving as Executive Officer for the Texas A&M Naval ROTC and Senior U.S. Navy Officer and Associate Professor of Naval Science at Texas A&M University when his former commanding officer, Col. James Bright, alerted him to Blinn’s search for an Executive Dean at the new RELLIS Campus.
Marrs, who planned to serve six more months in the Navy prior to retirement, asked how soon Blinn would begin looking to fill the position. Bright, now The Texas A&M University System’s Deputy Director of the RELLIS Campus, told him that if he planned to apply, he should do so immediately.
“He said, ‘Chris, as your friend, I’m going to tell you: if you’re interested in this type of job and you get selected for this job, you have served 23 years in the Navy,’” Marrs recalled. “‘You bump up your retirement and you adjust. It’s that great of a job and I think you would be great for it.’”
Blinn agreed. On Friday afternoon, March 30, 2018, Marrs took off his Navy uniform and began his new career the following Monday.
At the RELLIS Campus, Blinn is part of the RELLIS Academic Alliance, a unique partnership between Blinn and The Texas A&M System’s regional universities. Students can complete their foundational coursework at the 83,000-square-foot Schwartz Building and seamlessly transition to one of the Texas A&M System regional universities also located at the RELLIS Academic Complex located across the street from the Schwartz Building.
Through the RELLIS Academic Alliance, students can pursue bachelor’s degrees in accounting, biology, business, criminal justice, computer science, communication, finance, health science, management, marketing, nursing, psychology, public administration, and public safety management.
As Executive Dean, Marrs oversaw Blinn’s preparations to open the Walter C. Schwartz Building at the RELLIS Campus. When he arrived on campus, Blinn hoped to attract 500 students for its inaugural year. Instead, it opened its doors to 1,515 students in Fall 2018. More than 2,500 are now enrolled in Blinn courses at RELLIS.
“Dean Marrs has done an outstanding job of bringing people from a variety of institutions and departments together to create a welcoming environment at the RELLIS Campus,” Chancellor Hensley said. “Thanks to his efforts, RELLIS has become a home away from home for thousands of high-achieving students from across the State of Texas.”
It has been a rewarding journey for Marrs, who represents the first member of his family to attend college. Marrs’ father was born into a farming family in northern Illinois, but his father loved to travel and, as Marrs says, “wanted nothing more than to not be a farmer.”
Instead, Marrs’ father entered sales while his mother worked as a receptionist. In 1979, the family moved south to Dallas, and Marrs’ mother took a job in a law firm where two of the attorneys were Texas A&M graduates.
“I didn’t know much about what an Aggie was. All I knew was that they spoke really highly of Texas A&M,” Marrs said. “One of the guys was a retired Air Force colonel who flew F-4 Phantoms and I loved his aviation stories.”
With a smile, Marrs added, “I always wanted to grow up to be an x-wing fighter pilot after growing up as a Star Wars kid. We still don’t have those, so flying for the military was the next best thing.”
In Fall 1990, Marrs arrived on the Texas A&M campus for the Corps of Cadets’ freshman orientation week. With his sights set on becoming a military pilot, Marrs was ready to join an Air Force ROTC unit to pursue his dream of flying.
En route to the Air Force ROTC signup desk, however, his plans changed.
“Somebody pulled me aside and said, ‘Do you want to fly?’ and I said I do,” Marrs recalled. “They said, ‘Well, you don’t want to go into the Air Force because they don’t have any pilot slots these days. The Navy is really hurting for pilots so you probably want to go there.’
“Accepting what I perceived to be the ground truth, I said, ‘OK,’ and walked over to the Navy/Marine Corps table and they said, ‘What outfit do you want to be in?’ I told them I didn’t know and they said, ‘OK. Company C-2. There you go,’ and that’s where I ended up. Whoever that individual was, I would love to go back in history and thank them because they completely changed the trajectory of my life.”
In December 1994, Marrs graduated from Texas A&M, joined the Navy as an ensign, and went to flight school. He went on to fly for 13 consecutive years. Altogether, Marrs flew off of six aircraft carriers, recorded 673 carrier arrested landings, and spent approximately three years of his life on ships.
Along the way, Marrs picked up the call sign “Cheers,” after a production error in Saudi Arabia resulted in a flight suit name tag that said “CHIRS” instead of “CHRIS.” Apparently, his name was misspelled in Arabic as well, so when Marrs participated in a two-week training exercise with the Omani Air Force in the Persian Gulf, the Omani pilots mistakenly greeted him as “Cheers.”
After 13 years of flying, Marrs transitioned into an administrative role, working for major staffs in Illinois, Hawaii, Florida, and Europe.
“I could have continued to fly, but the way I like to explain it is that at a certain point they pay you more for what’s between your ears than what you can do in the air,” Marrs said.
After he finished his master’s degree, Marrs asked his detailer about available ROTC jobs. Thinking back to his days at Texas A&M, he asked if there was an available position in Aggieland. Incredibly, the Texas A&M Naval ROTC Executive Officer position was about to become available.
“The fact that everything lined up so perfectly to get down here to A&M, I believe it was meant to be. I never took a day of that job for granted and I loved what I did every single day working with the cadets,” Marrs said.
“Now, flash forward to everything lining up so well for me to work here, I feel like I was called to serve in this position. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about that. There’s a reason why I’m here. I have a purpose here, and that is to serve others and do my part to build this campus.”
Indeed, just a few weeks after his Naval retirement ceremony, Marrs again was reminded that the leadership skills that helped him serve his country for 23 years would be equally valuable in higher education.
That August, at the Schwartz Building’s grand opening, Chancellor Hensley presented Marrs with a ceremonial key to the facility. Emblazoned across the plaque on which the key is mounted is a reminder of Marrs’ continuing service to others: “Stand the Watch.”
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