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DINFOS chaplain shares financial knowledge, experience

By Army National Guard Pvt. Logan S. Cox

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Students and staff members alike have been flocking recently to Air Force Maj. Chris Watson’s Bible studies, which have been held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade.
At the Bible study, the groups have been studying Dave Ramsey’s program, Financial Peace University. Watson, the towering, blue-eyed chaplain for the school, supplements the program with his knowledge and experience to inspire students and staff members to become financially healthy.
Watson said his favorite part of being a chaplain is being able to change and impact lives, and helping people become financially healthy is just another way to do that.
“If you look at it, it’s an opportunity to influence and change a culture,” Watson said.
Army Sgt. Aura E. Conejos, an instructor at the school, and her husband began attending Watson’s Bible study together after they recognized they needed to budget their money more wisely.
With a toddler at home, there is always an unexpected expense, Conejos said, and she and her husband were not on the same page when it came to finances. The couple also wanted to dig deeper into their spiritual faith.
Watson’s advice and guidance makes the course better, Conejos said.
“Having the input, and the prayer, and the deeper connection to our faith makes saving money more meaningful,” Conejos said.
Watson said he realizes that many service members come from backgrounds similar to his.
Watson said his father was not smart with his finances during Watson’s childhood, and the family lived paycheck to paycheck as many Americans do. His father had filed for bankruptcy seven times by the age of 71.
Watson saw this behavior and emulated it as he grew up, but he didn’t realize that wasn’t how people were supposed to live, he said.
“When you don’t know, you just go by what you grew up with,” Watson said. “It’s a learned behavior, so I didn’t have a way to learn financial success.”
Watson was making money but spent it irresponsibly. He found himself $97,000 in debt, and that’s when he realized he needed to make a change. 
He accomplished this using the same program he teaches in his Bible study.
Watson said that Financial Peace University, which has a biblical foundation, teaches discipline, responsibility and accountability.
Learning to be financially stable requires learning new behaviors, which Watson said is the most challenging part. The knowledge is readily available, but it requires application.
Stephen L. Woolverton, another instructor at the Defense Information School, has known Watson since he first came to the school. Woolverton said that Watson has a desire to help people, and that he wants the students and staff members to be happy.
Woolverton said he had spoken with Watson on the topic of money and finances before and was excited to take the class.
“He’s financially sound,” Woolverton said. “He’s in a good place, and he knows what he is talking about.”
The students’ Bible study, held on Tuesdays, has had fluctuating numbers because of graduating classes leaving the school. The staff members’ Bible study, held on Wednesdays, has about 30 or 40 regular attendees.
The program is successful not because of how many people attend, but because of how many people have returned every week with success stories of tackling their debt, Woolverton said.
Since eliminating his personal debt, Watson and his wife have begun investing in real estate and now own seven properties in Tennessee.
“Ten years ago, we never thought we’d be in this situation,” Watson said.
For Watson, it’s not about the money. He said he plans to live off his real estate investments when he retires and focus his efforts on charity.
Watson said that one of his real estate objectives includes being able to establish and support a children’s home, or to foster and adopt children.
As a chaplain, he never knows whose life he will impact.
“I believe God keeps us humble by not letting us know too often, but often enough to remind us to keep pressing on,” Watson said.