By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Lockwood, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
MCPON Bob Walker, the U.S. Navy’s third Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, was a bit of an enigma. In the book Winds of Change: The History of the Office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy 1967-1992 by Charlotte D. Crist, Walker recalls not so fondly the discipline of the post-war Navy he joined in 1948.
“You were guilty until proven innocent,” he said in the book. “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.”
Whether it was overcompensation for having rocketed up the ranks at a time in the Navy’s history when promotions were notoriously slow in coming, or if he had a good old fashioned change of heart, he later found himself in 1970-72 as the senior enlisted advisor at Fleet Combat Direction Systems Training Center, Dam Neck, Va., using very similar tactics to build discipline. He built a reputation for his refusal to allow students onto 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 [long] beards. Locked horns with some submariners but I never lost. My captain believed the same way I did.”
But those views were tempered by the time he became Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy in the post-Vietnam all-volunteer force Sept. 25, 1975. In his first office call with Chief of Naval Operations Admiral James Holloway, he was briefed on 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.”
“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,” said Holloway. “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.”
In some ways, Walker was ahead of his time. Physical fitness, for instance, was a pet peeve. A program called “Shipshape” existed during his tenure. Standards or weight limitations were based on a simple scale of proportionate height and weight. But 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.”
Other issues he addressed during his tenure included the widely varying enlisted evaluation system in place at the time, solidifying the roles and responsibilities of fleet senior enlisted personnel, developing an enlisted surface warfare specialist program, and much more.
It’s probably true that no person who holds the post of MCPON achieves every goal they start with but, as he retired on Sept. 28, 1979, Walker appeared happy with what he was able to accomplish.
“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,” he said. “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.”
“He had an enormously heightened sense of personal responsibility and dedication to the service through the Fleet,” said Holloway in Winds of Change. “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.”
After his retirement on Sept. 28, 1979, Walker worked three years with the Non‑Commissioned Officers Association, rising to the position of president. On Sept. 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, Va.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Robert Walker passed away peacefully Feb. 15, 2016, with his family at his side.
Read more about MCPON Bob Walker’s time in office here.