This year’s Veterans Day reaches a milestone as it marks 100 years since the end of WWI. While we are thankful to all our veterans for their service and sacrifice, we wanted to pay special tribute to Heaviland’s VP of Operations and military veteran, Chris Gillespie. Chris spent 10 years in the Marines and shared details about his experience with us.
Why did you join the Marines?
I joined the USMC – Reserves in 1997 and served until 2007 (with a few of the 10 years being on active duty). I joined straight after high school when I didn’t receive any scholarship offers for wrestling. I didn’t have anyone pushing me to apply for any universities while in high school, so the Marines was my backup plan. I knew I didn’t want to sit around doing nothing after high school, but I also knew I didn’t want to go full-time active duty. The reserves program worked perfect for me. I was gone for about 6 months doing all the boot camp and job training elements before I came back home and enrolled in Junior College.
What was your rank?
My highest rank was Staff Sergeant or E-6.
Where did you serve?
Since I was a reservist, my reserve duty station was MCAS – Miramar, but during my tenure, I spent time in Mississippi, North Carolina, Hawaii, Arizona, Georgia, Kuwait and Iraq.
What was your job/assignment?
My official job title was Aviation Supply and Logistics. I worked to make sure we had everything we needed to keep our planes and helicopters in the air.
Were you awarded any medals? If so, how did you get them?
I was awarded two Navy Achievement Medals (Marines are a branch of the Navy) along with many other good conduct and time in service awards.
The first Navy Achievement Medal was awarded to me in 2003 for volunteering to help lead a graveyard shift team for 6 months while serving at Camp Pendleton on active duty during the invasion of Iraq. Our team was crucial for communication to our Marines in Iraq and making sure we were able to support them during that period.
The second Navy Achievement Medal was awarded to me for my time in Iraq in 2004. I volunteered to lead a team of 3 marines. We flew across the country to the other side of Iraq where all our supplies and gear were coming into the country from the United States. At that time, much of our unit’s stuff was getting lost. Our team worked with the Navy and Air Force to fix the logistical situation and put processes in place to get everything working smoothly.
How has serving in the military helped you in your role as VP of Operations?
I was only 17 when I went into boot camp. I graduated in one of the five leadership roles for our platoon of 60 and was meritoriously promoted to the next rank. After boot camp, I was shipped off to my technical job school. I finished 1st in my class of 30 and was promoted meritoriously to the next rank again.
These experiences started solidifying in me a desire to work hard and lead the way. The military taught me responsibility and maturity. As I look back at 23-year-old Chris serving and helping to lead while in a precarious position in Iraq, I can be proud of myself for laying the groundwork for leadership in my career. While in Iraq, we were under daily rocket attacks by insurgents. It was a scary situation at the time, but I learned not to be victim to that fear. We had a job to do and operating in fear would hinder us from accomplishing it. We worked 12 hours on 12 hours off, 7 days a week, for 7 months. It helped me to realize if I could do that, I could accomplish or deal with anything that came my way in life.
How did your time in the military affect your life?
The opportunities that came because of joining the military are very evident to me. At the young age of 21, the Sheriff’s Department offered me a job as Deputy Sheriff (average hiring age was 28-30 years old) because of my military experience and the maturity it instilled in me. When I went back to college at the age of 26, it helped me pay for my tuition by using the GI Bill. Having that help to complete my bachelor’s degree created the opportunity for me to get my MBA, which I completed in 2015. And I’ve used the VA Loan Program twice now to buy a house.
My time in the military helped expand my view of the world as I got out of the bubble I grew up in and started experiencing life for myself. It started me on my path to leadership in life, and I have lifelong friends I still keep in touch with. I’ve always shied away from people’s praise on Veterans Day because I always felt like it was just a job that I agreed to do. I joined for selfish reasons, wanting to create opportunities for myself. Not because I grew up with a grand desire to try to be Captain America. The military isn’t for everyone, and it can certainly require sacrifice in many forms when you join. I’m proud of the decision I made at a very young age, and I’m happy to have the life I have now today at the age of 39. The experience will always be a part of who I am, and I’m really proud of that.
We thank Chris for his service at home and abroad and appreciate his impactful contributions to our team at Heaviland.