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MCPON Robert "Bob" Walker

Third Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy:
Sept. 25, 1975 - Sept. 28, 1979

Portrait of MCPON Robert Walker

NHHC Collection Photo # L38-93.03.03. Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Robert J. Walker. Click image to download (59.6 MB). View additional images of MCPON Walker.

Note: The following content is reproduced from Winds of Change: The History of the Office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, 1967–1992, by Charlotte D. Crist; pp 47-62; joint publication of the Office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy and the Naval Historical Center.

"The lean defense budgets and the continuing erosion of public support for the armed services that followed the Vietnam War were palpable impacts on the morale of our military people in all services. The Navy was faced again during this difficult period of having to do more with less. Professional performance from our sailors had to be the key to the Navy's ability to carry out its mission, and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Robert Walker must be given a major share of the credit for the stability, professionalism, and strong morale that characterized the Navy's enlisted ranks during these trying times. Bob understood the problem, he was 100 percent behind the solutions, and he worked tirelessly to promote the kind of Navy that all of our people could be proud of. Best of all, he had an enormously heightened sense of personal responsibility and dedication to the service through the Fleet. I had the greatest respect and admiration for the MCPON Bob Walker when we served together, and today I have profound gratitude for his help to me and his service to the Navy. In my book, he was a real hero in those difficult times."

Admiral J. L. Holloway III, USN (Ret.)
Former CNO

Four years after joining the Navy in 1948, Robert J. "Bob" Walker was a 23‑year‑old first class radarman.

In a Navy where a leading seaman could have served 20 years and most first classes had at least four or five hashmarks, he learned quickly that a sailor needed more than marks under his crow to be a leader of men.

"We had a couple of boatswain's mates on my first ship who were God to anyone lower than them," he said. "I suffered at their hands a couple of times but I got my revenge because I advanced rapidly. It wasn't long before we switched places and I started kicking their rear ends instead of them kicking mine."

Radar was still in its infancy when Walker chose it as his career field. His recruiter advised him that advancement would come quickly.

"I joined the Navy to make it a career," he said. "I enjoyed it from the day I joined until the day I retired. I will say, though, that as I walked into the gate at Great Lakes, Illinois, for boot camp, I had a great deal of misgivings of what the hell I was getting into. We were marching down the street and I heard this voice, a very friendly voice from one of the barracks windows, holler out, 'Is anybody from New York? I thought, 'Oh my God, I've found a friend.' I hollered back, 'Yeah!' And of course, he came back with an obscenity. My morale went even lower but in about two days, everything changed."

His first ship was the destroyer McKean. He made his first Western Pacific (WESTPAC) deployment during the Japanese occupation when U.S. ships were stopping and searching all Japanese ships. Walker recalls that liberty in Oriental ports was good back then.

"You could have a good time over there on five dollars," he said. "The cost of things was ridiculously low."

Discipline aboard ship made liberty even more precious.

"You were guilty until proven innocent," he pointed out. "One time I worked off six or eight hours of extra duty because my wash cloth at the end of my bunk was an inch off. The master at arms was an S.O.B. who walked around with a ruler. You can bet your bottom dollar that I had it right the next time. There's an old saying that you get used to hanging if you hang long enough. People just didn't know any better. We didn't see that as being cruel and unusual because we didn't know anything else."

According to Walker, chief petty officers with lots of red hash marks were typical "because in those days it was hard to stay out of trouble. If someone said something and you made some kind of gesture they didn't like, they'd just put you on report and you'd go to captain's mast. The captain always backed the petty officer."

First Taste of Leadership

Walker was given his first taste of leadership as a seaman.

"The leading radarman, the seaman, went home on leave and I was selected to be the leading radarman," he said. "I had the job for 30 days. I found out that I could get along pretty doggone good without him. I could handle it. That was my first indication of what being a leader was like. After that I wanted to continue to have the responsibility. It was a helluva let down when he came back off leave."

The commanding officer of the McKean set an early example of successful leadership for the young petty officer.

"He knew the entire crew, went around everyday and talked to everybody, went into the compartments. We were the only ship in the harbor that had good liberty. When we were in port, liberty started every day at 11 a.m. Everybody worked hard until liberty call. He really rewarded us for the job that we did. Everything was so effortless, just amazing. I tried to glean from him some of his leadership qualities because he was certainly very, very successful. We won the Battle E two or three times in a row. That was unbelievable!"

Eight years after joining the Navy, Walker was a chief petty officer, the highest step for enlisted. Warrant ranks, W‑1, 2, 3, 4, was the next step. Two years later, in 1958, the Navy joined the other services in creating pay grades E‑8 and E‑9.

"After being a chief for two years, I'm starting to say, 'Hmmm, there's got to be something better, '" Walker said. "I was ambitious and I'm still that way, and I just couldn't see staying a chief petty officer although I thoroughly enjoyed it. So when they opened up the E‑8/9, I said, 'Oh boy, that's it.'"

In 1961 he was selected for E‑8 and two years later for E‑9. At 34, he attracted a lot of attention as a young master chief with only three hash marks.

"There were times when individuals in the other deck ratings would look down upon those individuals in the more critical ratings like electronics, radar. They would make all kinds of inappropriate remarks, which I won't go into, but I ran my department in a fashion where no one had any doubts that I wouldn't kick their rear ends. I didn't have any problems. I might have been a young master chief but I was a sailor too."

Eyes on the Office

In the late 1960s, Walker was at Great Lakes Naval Training Center as Director of Training, Radarman "A" School, when the announcement for the position of a senior enlisted advisor for the Navy was sent to the fleet. His command recommended him.

"I didn't make it to first base," he said. "I was very junior. But it was nice to be recommended. But I tell you one thing. I know a lot of people thought I was an egotistical whatever, but I told people I was going to be Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy one day."

When nominations for MCPON Black's relief were solicited, Walker did not compete.

"I was trying to get some smarts into what it was I needed to really stand a chance," he said.

From 1970 to 1972, he served as senior enlisted advisor and leading chief for combat systems training at the Fleet Combat Direction Systems Training Center, Dam Neck, Virginia. He built a reputation there for his refusal to allow students on the base unless their haircuts and beards were "regulation."

"When the Z‑gram for beards came out," he said, "I sent a couple of training teams back to their ship. Wouldn't let them come on base with long hair or beards. Locked horns with some submariners but I never lost. My captain believed the same way I did."

In 1972, Walker's rating was renamed "Operations Specialist" (OS).

At the height of the Zumwalt era, Walker was transferred to the carrier John F. Kennedy where he served as leading chief of the Operations Department. After a few months, he was given the title of master chief petty officer of the command (MCPOC).

"I talked the executive officer into doing morning inspections again," he said. "Christ, there'd be guys with damn earrings in their ears! I'd take one of the senior Marines around with me. When I found a sailor with earrings, I'd say, 'Son, if you don't take the earrings out, you're going to the brig."'

Haircuts didn't miss the MCPOC's scrutiny either. "If you came aboard needing a haircut, whether you were ship's company or visiting, we obliged you," Walker said. "And we made sure you had one when you left. We didn't have many visitors. We had a squared away ship but it was a happy ship and very few people got into trouble. Ashore, everybody knew a Kennedy sailor because he had a good short hair cut."

When the policy on civilian clothes aboard ship was liberalized, the Kennedy MCPOC had his own policy.

"I had all the departments hold a seabag inspection and I made everyone get a full seabag," he said. "If that fit in their locker and they had room for civilian clothes, wonderful. We had a seabag inspection once a quarter. If you didn't have a full one you were going to mast. Same rule for everybody. A lot of civilian clothes left the ship."

In November, 1974, Vice Admiral Frederick H. Michaelis, Commander, Air Force Atlantic (COMNAVAIRLANT) surveyed his master chiefs for the job of Master Chief Petty Officer of the Force (MCPOF). He selected a black shoe, OSCM Bob Walker.

When nominations were solicited for the job of MCPON, Walker felt he was ready.

"I had around 27 years in the Navy, 19 years at sea. I felt it was a good time frame and having been just selected as force master chief of AIRLANT, and a black shoe at that, I thought my credentials were pretty damn good. So AIRLANT put in a helluva good package for me and I made all the wickets."

While the final eleven candidates were being screened to four, Walker was on a trip to Brunswick, Maine, with Vice Admiral Howard E. Greer who had relieved Vice Admiral Michaelis as COMNAVAIRLANT.

"Everyone was assembled. The admiral was making a presentation to someone. The aide, a flag lieutenant, went up to the admiral and told him he had a phone call. He went off to take the call, came back to a doorway where I could see him and held up four fingers. I made the final four."

The other three finalists were PNCM Joe D. Pierce of Chief of Naval Air Training, Corpus Christi, Texas; NCCM Charles H. Griva, Commander Naval Surface Force Pacific (COMNAVSURPAC); and UTCM Robert L. Evans, BUPERS (PERS‑5). The four, with their wives, were sent to Washington for interviews and social events. Fran Walker remembers the cruise they took on the Potomac one evening in the Chief of Naval Operation's barge.

"We were the only enlisted on board except for the crew," she said. "We were all very nervous. Never done anything like that before."

Walker remembers the interviews with the CNO, Admiral Holloway, and the CNP, Vice Admiral James Watkins:

"From the moment I sat down with Admiral Holloway, I felt that we could have a very special, working relationship. I remember thinking that I probably blew the interview because I disagreed with him on some things but overall, I thought it went very well. The CNP asked me what the Navy could do to increase the retention among radarmen. I told him I didn't really know of anything because it was a very sea intensive rating. At that time, the only doggone thing a radarman could do ashore was be an instructor. Then I told him if he opened up some general billets to radarmen that might help but I wasn't sure what that would do for retention."

"I Cried"

When the candidates were sent home on Friday, they were told that the winner would receive a phone call sometime during the weekend.

Walker admits he was "quite nervous" that weekend, but Fran remembers the weekend a bit clearer.

In a house with six children, the phone was put off‑limits. "He forbid us from using the phone," she said. "We had to go next door to the neighbors to make a call. You couldn't even look at him or talk to him. He was a nervous wreck."

But a call from Washington never came.

"When he went to bed that Sunday night, he was really down," Fran Walker said of her husband.

At work the next day, Walker received a call from Master Chief Griva, a fellow candidate.

"He asked me if I had been called and I told him no. He said he had just been called and told that he didn't make it," Walker remembered. "So, time continued to pass that day and I still didn't hear anything. Then the chief of staff called and said the admiral wanted to see me right away, that we had some problem. When I walked in, the chief of staff said it would be a few minutes, the admiral was on the phone. He was on the phone all right ... but he was on the phone with the CNO. When he called me in, he had a big smile as he handed me the phone. When Admiral Holloway told me I had been selected, I cried. I went back down to the office and called Fran. I was so emotional she couldn't figure out whether I had won or lost."

Fran said her husband's call left her confused and worried.

"It didn't make any sense," she said. "I didn't think he would cry about it if he lost but I couldn't make heads or tails out of it. But when he came home that afternoon, his mouth almost didn't fit through the door he was smiling so hard. He was one happy guy."

The Turnover

When Walker went to Washington for his turnover with Whittet, he discovered that his predecessor wasn't anxious to leave. Because he had reenlisted for six more years midway through his tour, Whittet was not retiring from the Navy. That created an immediate and future problem for Walker.

"I told him that staying in the Navy after serving as MCPON was the dumbest thing he could do," Walker said. "He didn't want to have a ceremony when he left office but I told him that it was my time in the sun. I was going to have a ceremony. So we did. It wasn't like the one we had when I left, but we had one."

During the final week before the change of office, Whittet presided over the CNO MCPO Advisory Panel, with Walker looking on. Within a few months after Whittet transferred to Coronado, he put in his papers to retire.

Settling In

Walker moved his family to Washington, preferring to buy a home in Woodbridge, Virginia, to accepting the home offered at Andrews Air Force Base.

During his first office call with the CNO after taking office, Walker said Admiral Holloway briefed him on his plans to bring the Navy back to a "middle of the road" policy.

"There was tremendous pressure on the CNO from the four‑star community to go out there and really hammer people," Walker said, "but we both felt that would have been totally wrong. The mentality and the feelings of the population had changed. Totally changed. You just couldn't do that. So he did the right thing. Absolutely brilliant."

"Middle of the road discipline," according to Walker meant "enlightened leadership willing to listen."

"In the communication process, if you really listen," he explained, "then you are effectively communicating. You can put out all good information and good words, but if you don't offer that listening mode as a larger part of the time, then you aren't communicating. That ability to listen is what brought the Navy back to the middle of the road."

Having been out in the fleet during much of Z‑Gram era, Walker was aware of the problems that had been created.

"The feeling was that, while some of the changes had to take place, the manner in which the changes were made was unfortunate," he said. "In many cases the senior chain of command was never consulted and the only way they knew what was happening was to get that Z‑Gram. It caused a great deal of negative reaction, negative feedback, which caused a very serious breakdown in the chain of command. That time frame was much more liberal than had ever existed before or since, but you've gotta make sure that the people who work for you are informed and feel part of the process. That caused a lot of senior officers to become very, very bitter. A lot of them just said to hell with it."

In his first All Hands column, Walker listed his goals as improvements to the advancement system, command indoctrination programs, leadership skills for petty officers, management skills for chief petty officers, human goals programs, and retention.

"In order to be an effective MCPON," he wrote, "I have established standards for myself and my staff. The most important of these concerns communications. A great deal of emphasis is being placed on communications these days and rightly so. Communications among all levels is extremely important and is the fulcrum upon which our organization functions."

In addition to promising an "open door" policy for his office, he invited his shipmates to call or write about their problems or concerns with Navy issues.

"I value constructive criticism and recognize its importance in the decision-making processes," he wrote.

Deeper Goals

In retrospect, Walker remembers that his goals went much deeper than the ones listed in his first article.

"I wanted to see the Navy go back to traditional uniform, groomed sailors, discipline, and individuals who had respect for themselves because they were proud of what they were doing," he said. "I believed that I would have enough support from enlisted leadership who wanted to see the Navy come back to its rightful position. I really felt good about it."

Going back to the "traditional uniform" would take several years, but Walker recalls that, in his first office call on the CNO as MCPON, the admiral promised that as soon as they could go back, they would.

"The admiral felt the same way I did about what I called the 'funeral director's uniform,' but he told me that the change was too far along to reverse it. He said if we tried to go back too quickly, we'd be investigated for fraud and abuse because so much money was already invested in the new one. He told me that if I would go out and publicly support the new uniform, that before I left office, we would be making the move back to the old one. And that's what happened."

As requested, Walker appeared to support the new uniform publicly. In an All Hands article in which he responded to some of the questions he was receiving from the fleet, he wrote: "I have received numerous letters in the past few months requesting that I support a return to the 'traditional' enlisted uniforms. None of these letters have convinced me that the Navy is not heading in the right direction uniformwise." 

Moving Back

Moving the Navy back in the areas of discipline and grooming was a different matter. Using the chain of communication available through the MCPOF/MCPOC program, Walker directed the chief's community toward what he described as the five "Principles of Professionalism:" technical expertise; job skill; leadership; motivation; and personal integrity and responsibility.

Leadership was Walker's favorite topic. He believed that leadership qualities were "learned," not innate qualities and he worked for four years to develop meaningful leadership training programs. Through his efforts, a petty officer indoctrination course became mandatory for all new E‑4s. New chiefs were also required to take indoctrination courses. Leadership management courses, initiated but not fully implemented during Admiral Zumwalt's tenure, gained new emphasis and focus.

Through his connection with the other services via their senior enlisted advisors, Walker pushed and gained more quotas for senior and master chiefs at the Army's Sergeant Major Academy and the Air Force's Senior Enlisted Academy. Not content with sending Navy people to other services for leadership training, he initiated a recommendation to create a Navy Senior Enlisted Academy.

"I had to jump up in the middle of a lot of desks and do a lot of cussing to get that one through," he said. "A lot of the senior officers opposed it because they were afraid that with that kind of training, senior enlisted could take officer billets. Not even the CNO was completely sold on the idea. But I finally got it approved."

In a recent interview, retired Admiral Holloway said the cost of the Academy, in dollars and manpower loss to the fleet, was the primary concern associated with approval of the Academy. "We were looking at the impact on the fleet, both short and long term," he said. "And there were concerns that graduates would leave the Navy too soon after graduation to benefit the Navy."

In the October 1, 1979 Navy Times article, summarizing Walker's tenure, the Navy's "tentative approval" of the establishment of a Senior Enlisted Academy was announced. A pilot class of 16 senior and master chiefs was due to convene in late 1981 at Newport, Rhode Island, according to the article.

Off‑Duty Education

Though it met with some resistance, off‑duty education became a primary retention tool for the All‑Volunteer Force. In his April 1976 All Hands article, Walker explained the educational management system Navy Campus for Achievement (NCFA), designed to coordinate the Navy's off‑duty education programs with on‑duty education and training programs.

"Beginning in March 1974, NCFA established a network of professional educational advisers who absorb much of the paperwork and interviewing formerly done by Educational Services Officers (ESOs) and career counselors," Walker wrote. "NFCA advisers can assist you in formulating your educational or training goals. Or, they can evaluate your work experience and education, and counsel you concerning the completion of high school, vocational/technical training, or college through off‑duty study. They'll answer your questions concerning the availability of educational funds, such as the Tuition Assistance program or in‑service use of the GI Bill."

Programs under the NCFA umbrella were the "Contract for Degree," tailored to allow students to accumulate credits from various sources and apply them all toward a degree program at a participating college or university; Program for Afloat College Education (PACE) which provides instructors from contracted colleges and universities for classes on board ships throughout the fleet; Predischarge Education Program (PREP), allows non-high school graduates to take classroom instruction in english, math and social sciences leading to a high school diploma; Defense Activity for Non-traditional Educational Support Program (DANTES), which provides a general battery of tests (CLEP) in which a student can earn up to six semester hours of college credit; Serviceman's Opportunity College (SOC), an association of two‑ and four‑year degree completion programs that provide maximum credit for military training schools and nontraditional education; and tuition assistance which gives up to 75 percent of tuition costs for classroom courses or allows qualified military members to use veteran's benefits like the GI Bill. Since 1974, NCFA has continued to expand with the addition of colleges, advisors, and NCFA offices at Naval facilities. Off‑duty education has become an important career enhancer and receives additional points from selection boards. It is also considered part of the Navy's role in preparing its citizen sailors for a successful return to the civilian work environment.

Tough Taskmaster

As MCPON, Walker demanded a lot from his senior enlisted advisers. In 1977, he changed the MCPOF/SCPOC/CPOC organization to a Fleet, Force and Command Master Chief program through revision of OPNAVINST 5400.37A.

"We really accomplished things," he said. "If they didn't produce, I kicked them in the rear end. I told them if they didn't use their command master chiefs, they weren't going to be a fleet or force."

To communicate with the senior enlisted advisory network, Walker began a monthly newsletter in 1976 called The Word. During the next four years, The Word, changed in 1979 to its current form, The Direct Line, addressed all the issues that concerned the MCPON and the senior enlisted advisers. "Control of sloppy beards," the discontinuation of the practice allowing COs to forward copies of enlisted commendatory correspondence to the Bureau for service jackets, the petty officer quality control review board, recruiting, a modification to the accelerated advancement program for "A" school graduates, and news on pay, leave, and retirement were among the subjects covered in 1976 issues.

The Word

In January 1977, via The Word, Walker urged the enforcement of a 1973 policy setting the proper forms of address of enlisted personnel. Eleven years earlier, the SECNAV Retention Task Force had recommended "revising the customs for formal oral address, including the introduction of enlisted men and for written address to provide for addressing petty officers (except E‑7, E‑8 and E‑9) as 'Petty Officer…' and non‑petty officer grades as 'Seaman…,' 'Fireman…,' etc., instead of addressing those groups by their last names only." The 1973 policy was issued through BUPERS NOTICE 1000.

In that same issue of The Word, the November 1976 recruiting results were given. The Navy Recruiting Command had enlisted 8,542 persons, achieving 99.8 percent of its goal for all regular and reserve enlisted programs. More than 86 percent of the active duty non‑prior service enlistees were eligible to attend "A" schools and 79.2 percent were high school graduates.

Other news items from 1977 issues of The Word:

  • Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced that military services will no longer issue undesirable discharge certificates. Beginning 1 January 1977, those being separated for misconduct, security reasons or who request discharge for the good of the service would be issued a discharge under "other than honorable" conditions;

  • Fleet and force master chiefs gain approval to serve on the E‑7 and E‑8/9 selection boards (two per board);

  • An increasing interest and desire for a distinctive insignia for the enlisted surface warfare community has been evidenced. Force Master Chiefs William M. Keough and Charles Griva, Atlantic and Pacific Surface Force respectively, have been tasked to coordinate a Surface Warfare insignia qualification criteria review within the enlisted force of their respective fleets. A dedicated and coordinated effort is urged so that this can be an agenda item for the October 1977 CNO MCPO conference;

  • A problem area in overseas screening. Screening commands are clearing individuals for overseas assignment who have no business being overseas. The result is a waste of PCS monies;

  • Command sponsorship programs need shoring up. Too many people never received "word one" from their new commands;

  • The Navy is 100 percent on the Joint Uniform Military Pay System (JUMPS) pay system;

  • A uniform poll is being conducted to determine the opinion of Navy enlisteds toward the coat‑and‑tie uniform and the bell‑bottom and jumper uniform;

  • Boot camp is reduced from nine to eight weeks. The cut will save the Navy about $20 million each year;

  • SECNAV W. Graham Claytor is sworn in;

  • During a visit to Great Lakes Naval Training Center, the MCPON talked to a group of newly arrived students. It was easy to pick out the fleet sailors since they were the ones whose uniforms and overall grooming was markedly poorer. He was concerned that fleet sailors will have a significant influence on the other students. Personnel whose attitude and/or personal appearance is poor or marginal should not receive a favorable command recommendation to attend "A" school until they improve;

  • Results of the Petty Officer Quality Control Review board: 145,000 first and second class petty officers were reviewed; 1,498 identified as substandard performers, administrative action was recommended, including two administrative separations, 100 reductions in rate and 17 transfers to Fleet Reserve; 1,151 sent warning letters citing substandard performance; 66 referred to the Enlisted Alcohol Review Board; 320 advised to pursue a weight reduction program or be subject to a convenience of the government discharge; 36 referred to BUPERS Human Resource Management Section for failure to comply with Navy policy on equal opportunity;

  • Senate Armed Services Committee forwards to the Senate proposed legislation making it illegal for members of the Armed Services to knowingly join or solicit others to join a union which claims to represent service members over terms and conditions of their military service. It also prohibits any person or organization from attempting to bargain or negotiate on behalf of military members concerning terms and conditions of military service, in grievance procedures, and prohibits military members from engaging in strikes or other concerted actions;

  • During recent CNO MCPO conference, CNO and Deputy Chief of Naval Personnel (DCNP) addressed attrition in the Navy, asked panel for recommendations to reduce the problem;

  • No more than 65 percent of disposable income can be garnished for child support and alimony payments under the Tax Reduction and Simplification Act of 1977;

  • Widespread concern over consolidation of officer and CPO messes or CPO and petty officer messes. The Navy supports the concept of separate messes and, at this time, there is no plan to establish consolidated messes Navy‑wide;

  • Tentative indications are that a review of the policy for assignment of women in the military will be considered as part of the FY 79 Authorization Bill. Navy women can begin wearing the new maternity uniform on January 1, 1978. The uniform will be optional when regular uniforms no longer fit.

Panel Follow‑up

Following up on recommendations from the CNO MCPO Advisory Panel became an important and time‑consuming role for the MCPON. In the December 1977 issue of The Word, the status of action items from the fall CNO MCPO Advisory Panel included the following:

  • MCPO/SCPO/CPO Reclassification: CNP supports. CINCPACFLT and CINCUSNAVEUR briefed and concurs. CINCLANTFLT scheduled for brief. CNO to be briefed on the role and function definitions soon. Chief of Naval Education and Training (CNET) requested to provide training assessment for the POM 80 submission;

  • Overweight enlisted personnel: CNP concurs. A box will be utilized on E‑5 through E‑9 evaluation forms to permit the reporting senior to report each enlisted member's height and weight;


  • Enlisted Evaluation System: CNP concurs. MCPON will provide representation to the current review of the evaluation system;
  • Enlisted Surface Warfare Insignia: MCPON/MCPOFs will review, during their April 1978 conference, the final Surface Warfare Insignia proposal being developed  by OP‑03;

  • Shipboard Habitability Steering Group: CNP concurs. Recommend habitability steering group be established with representation from MCPON/MCPOF;

  • Establishment of BM "A" School: Recommend CNET be tasked to study the requirement for the establishment of BM "A" School.

Final approval and implementation for issues such as the enlisted surface warfare insignia often required extensive study, consideration and approval from the fleet commanders and lower echelons, design submission and selection by the Uniform Board, and other intricacies of the "chop chain." In the case of the ESWS, a chart in the Uniform Board office shows CNO approval in 1975. It would be three years later before the program was implemented.

"You've got to have the philosophy that you don't give a damn who takes credit for it," Walker said, "as long as it's something good and it happens."

"I pushed for ESWS for professional reasons," he pointed out. "To get your dolphins in the submarine force you go through one helluva indoctrination into that submarine. The individual who wears those dolphins can be doggone proud of himself because it is really an accomplishment. So I said why don't we create that same professionalism in the surface force with a very tough program. The Navy is certainly going to benefit because of the increased professionalism by all hands."

To get the program off the ground, individual commands were allowed to set up their own programs.

"As with everything, you've got to be flexible," Walker explained, "so you can solidify that flexibility later. When it first came out there were guidelines but it was left up to the individual commands to qualify their people. Meanwhile, back in the Bureau, we really started to work on a very definitive set of requirements that the individual would have to meet to get the qualifications."

Walker has been pleased with the results.

"I can't help but believe that surface warfare qualifications did anything but enhance the Navy," he said. "And I believe that if you could examine what went on aboard the Roberts and Stark, (both damaged extensively in the Persian Gulf), you will find that they were able to save the ships because the majority of the crew was surface warfare qualified."

Getting sailors adequately paid for going to sea was an issue that Walker fought hard to win, but left office before an increase was approved.

"There was a laughable sea pay," he said. "I forget how many times I testified on sea pay before committees. A chief's sea pay was only $22.50 per month. It was ridiculous. You lost money going from shore duty to sea duty. You're going back to what the Navy is all about and you take a pay cut. The last time I testified was in '79. The next year, they increased it to $100. Now you can get up to $500. That's not shabby."

Physical Fitness

Physical fitness was another of Walker's pet peeves. A program called "Shipshape" existed during his tenure. Standards or weight limitations were based on a simple scale of proportionate height and weight. According to Walker, the weight control program was not uniformly enforced for officers and enlisted.

"What really pissed me off was this doctor in Pearl Harbor, a commander, who was forcing enlisted people out of the Navy for being overweight and that S.O.B. weighed three hundred pounds," Walker said. "I went to see the CNO about it. I was so incensed that I almost stood in the middle of his desk. He kind of gathered that I was upset. I'll never forget it. He said, 'You know, master chief. I think you are really pissed off.' I said I am because that's absolutely incomprehensible that we let a three‑hundred‑pound slob make a decision like that. Well, the slob didn't remain in his job but it has been very difficult to have a uniform approach. We did solidify to a degree the control of weight of enlisted."

New Roles and Systems

On May 23, 1978, the CNO approved the new roles and function definitions for master, senior, and chief petty officers. Briefly, the three‑tiered definitions set more specific divisions in technically oriented supervisory and management skills. The MCPO was given administration and management functions involving enlisted people and was expected to contribute in matters of policy formulation as well as implementation within their occupational field or across the full Navy rating spectrum.

The senior chief was described as the senior technical supervisor within a rating or occupational field and would provide the command with technical expertise. The chief would become the top technical authority and expert within a rating, providing the direct supervision, instruction, and training of lower rate people.

Another of Walker's projects was the Board for Correction of Naval Records. "What a mess that was!" he said. "I managed to get the ignoramus in charge fired. It was taking an average at that time of three years or more to have BCNR act on a letter from someone. Now that's ridiculous!"

Walker's staff had problems just pulling someone's record for casework.

"Filing—all they had were paper records," Walker said. "When the Atlantic Naval Manpower Analysis Center took a look at BCNR, they said, 'Jeez, we need to put in a computer system' and everything started to move. They went to microfiche."

In July 1978, Admiral Holloway was relieved by Admiral Thomas B. Hayward as the CNO. During the next four years, "Pride and Professionalism" became the battle cry in the Navy's war against drugs and leadership apathy.

At that time, there were three different evaluation forms for chiefs and above, E‑5/6s, and E‑4 and below.

On July 5, 1978, Walker forwarded the final report of a study of the Enlisted Performance Evaluation System conducted by the FM/Cs, a recommendation from the 1977 CNO MCPO Advisory Panel.

"What we tried to do was eliminate everybody being 4.0," Walker said. "The group that did that did a helluvajob. The CNP, Vice Admiral James Watkins was dumbfounded. He couldn't believe that the group turned out the work that they did."

Although the group recommended going to a single form for all rates, it would take five years and another study group before the Navy would eliminate the three‑form system.

In September 1978, Walker moved the office to its current location in Room 1046 in the Navy Annex. Previously occupied by the Inspector General, the new location gave the MCPON and his staff a large outer office with a small coffee mess area and a large, separate office for the MCPON.


Walker's farewell message in the September 1979 issue of The Direct Line reflects a mood of intense pride in the role he played in the Navy's progress to solid, communicative leadership. His final comments on leadership characterize his tenure:

"Honesty must be a day‑to‑day example of genuine concern for people, a professional approach to the mission, and the ability to lead and accomplish set goals. Never be afraid to admit mistakes or try new ideas, and by all means, let your subordinates have the opportunity to recommend and become part of the solution.

"There is no place for bigotry or racism in the Navy. We are all sailors striving to achieve a common goal and that is the continued freedom our great nation enjoys. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the Navy is truly an honorable profession."

After his retirement on September 28, 1979, Walker worked three years with the Non‑Commissioned Officers Association, rising to the position of president. He is presently employed as Manager/Public Relations for the Jonathon Corporation, a ship repair/electronics business in Norfolk, Virginia. His continued involvement in organizations that support the Navy has gained him the reputation as "Mr. Navy" in the Norfolk area.

On September 21, 1990, he was present for the dedication of Robert J. Walker Hall, the new home of Operations Specialist "A" School at Fleet Combat Training Center, Atlantic, Dam Neck, Virginia. The facility has 120,000 square feet, 36 classrooms, 20 laboratories, and 15 offices, making it the largest school at Dam Neck.

Note: MCPON Walker passed away on February 15, 2016.

Published: Mon Aug 29 16:59:26 EDT 2016