Student graduates, becomes Marine Corps major in the same week

As the star senior quarterback and captain of his Virginia high school football team, Chris Davis wasn’t dreaming of becoming a lawyer. 

His sights were set on playing college and professional football. 

But when he arrived at the U.S. Naval Academy in 2005 and spent more time on the bench than on the field, his life goals began to change. Still, studying the law wasn’t on his radar.

“I started seeing how Marines acted and carried themselves,” he said. “And I started thinking about jumping out of airplanes and traveling the world.”

It wasn’t until after being stationed in Okinawa, Japan for two years, commanding a company of Marines in South Carolina, and facing combat in Afghanistan that Davis began to consider a legal career.

As part of a task force partnering with Afghan police and government officials to reestablish the rule of law, Davis provided security for a group of military attorneys and Afghan judges who were responsible for drafting what would become the framework for Afghanistan’s constitution.  

“By that time I was thinking, there’s got to be something bigger for my life,” he said. “Observing the impact a skilled judge advocate and attorney might have while deployed in a foreign country was life-altering. I was just floored.”

Just eight years after witnessing those military attorneys at work, Davis is reaching some significant milestones. This month he’ll graduate with his juris doctor degree, he’ll be promoted to rank of U.S. Marine Corps major, and he’ll begin packing up his home to ready himself for a move to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. But first, he’ll attend Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island, to complete the final piece of the training he needs to become a military lawyer.

During the three years Davis has been a law student through the Marine Corps’ Law Education Program, his “appointed place of duty during the academic year” has been the University of Tennessee College of Law. 

Ever the Marine, Davis said he couldn’t help but fall back on his military leadership training during his time as a student. He committed to student life by serving as a member of the dean’s student advisory council, and as a leader of the Student Bar Association and the Vols for Veterans student organization. Under his leadership, the veterans group helped raise $40,000 to fund a scholarship for a veteran student and received UT’s 2018 Charles R. Burchett Award for Extraordinary Contributions to Campus Life. 

Law Professor Ben Barton said Davis’ commitment to the law school community was no more apparent than when a pipe burst in the building in January 2018.

“My office was the epicenter of the flood and there was literally a waterfall from my ceiling,” Barton said. “Chris volunteered to clear my office, wading through the muck to help carry everything out.”

When Barton’s office rug was destroyed, Davis contacted a former classmate stationed in Kabul to find a replacement and have it flown to Knoxville.

“It’s hard to put into words how much the gift meant to me, not just as a matter of decor, but as a matter of friendship,” Barton said.

While Davis has enjoyed his time at UT Law, he says he is eager to return to military life and see what the future holds.

“It may sound odd to say, but law school has been some of the easiest years of my life,” Davis said. “For one thing, I don’t get late-night calls anymore about some crisis that a Marine is facing. Your phone rings constantly when you’re in charge of 165 people.”

Returning to a position that forces him to help resolve life and death issues that arise at 1 a.m. has never sounded better to Davis.

“There’s just a camaraderie and a dedication to service that is greater than self. That’s what drew me to the military,” he said. “And I’ve missed that.”