GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- Command Master Chief (CMC) Leon R. Walker Jr. was piped ashore for a final time after 32 years of Naval service in a traditional retirement ceremony in the Recruit Memorial Chapel at Recruit Training Command (RTC) here, Aug. 7.
Walker, the CMC for Naval Service Training Command (NSTC), was also CMC for Naval Station Great Lakes and served at RTC a number of times as a recruit, student, instructor and recruit division commander (RDC).
"Thank you all for joining me today," Walker told the hundreds of Sailors, friends, staff members and family members who had come from his hometown of Cleveland. "It's been an up and down ride, mostly up, and I could not have done it without many of you in this room."
The ceremony was also attended by many area chief petty officers, including the RTC Chief's Mess, one of the Navy's largest, as Walker reflected on his years before he joined the Navy of the years serving at sea and on shore.
"Leon is a man who leads from the front," said retired Cmdr. Robert Sullivan, former Naval Station Great Lakes executive officer. "When Sailors would graduate from boot camp and come across the street to the training schools, Master Chief Walker would take the time to recognize and congratulate as many Sailors as he could find that they were taking the right action."
Walker told the audience how he came from humble beginnings and grew up in a ghetto in Cleveland in a one bedroom apartment with his father, sister and brother. He joked how the family dog had a better house than they did and that the doghouse had carpeting and a lamp. He credited his aunts for keeping him focused and goal-oriented.
A lot of Walker's speech was filled with humorous "sea stories". As Walker said at the beginning "we're going to have some fun." From the reaction of the crowd and the laughter, it was.
Even the guest speaker, Fleet Master Chief April Beldo, got in on the fun as she reflected on first meeting Walker when she was the CMC at RTC. She said Master Chief Walker was looking for an endorsement to go to CMC School. Master Chief Beldo at first told him to get out of her office, having never met Walker before and never endorsing anyone she didn't know. She eventually did give him the endorsement and assisted the CMC detailer with his first set of orders as a CMC.
"So the detailer and I often talked and we were talking about where he should go. San Diego? Nope. Norfolk? Nope. Hooyah, CMC DDG 82, USS Lassen, forward deployed Japan, that's right! Do you believe in karma?"
Beldo added in all seriousness that the CMC detailer did call her and said the Lassen needed a hot-running CMC.
"They needed someone special. They needed some special leadership. I told the detailer Master Chief Walker is your CMC. I knew he was ready and I knew he could handle the tasking so sign him up," she said. "When I called him up and explained the circumstances, all he said was 'Whereever the Navy needs me I will go.' That is the epitome of leadership. That is Leon Walker - a seasoned Sailor who knew how to have fun but also knew how to handle business and was not going to let anyone give less than 100 percent."
Walker was lauded with numerous gifts from the area Chief's Messes, he received letters of congratulations from President Obama, and Presidents George W. Bush and George Herbert Walker Bush and he received a Meritorious Service Medal from Capt. Heedong Choi, NSTC's Chief of Staff. The ceremony also included a flag folding where a flag was folded 13 times by two Sailors, Machinist's Mate 2nd Class Damien Smith and Yeoman 3rd Class Calvin Render, and the "13 Folds" was explained by Senior Chief Operations Specialist Samira McBride.
There was also a flag passing ceremony where a properly folded flag is passed from each rank in Master Chief Walker's career, seaman to master chief. The poem "Old Glory" was read by Logistics Specialist 1st Class Rashaad Essex. The CPO Retirement Creed was recited by retired Chief Machinist's Mate Claudetta Griffith and "The Watch" was recited by the master chief's children; Kamarin, Kayla and Aamir.
For many, leaving something you have been doing for 32 years can be emotional. Master Chief Walker was no exception as emotions swept over him twice during the ceremony. The first time was when his children presented him with a sketch of their father in uniform. The second was at the end as Master Chief Walker was piped ashore for a final time and walked through a sea of khaki as CPOs lined both sides of the aisle and out the door of the chapel in a farewell salute.
On the back of his retirement program, Master Chief Walker left these words for everyone, "Learn to become what God has led you to become - a decent person and human being. Anything aside from that, and you are not in alignment with God, it's just that simple. Your path has been laid for you -- follow it as you have been born to do. If you seek anything other than that, you will surely encounter pure hell! Grown - to become greater, increase in influence... God is grown! Be grown!"
For more news from Naval Service Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/greatlakes/.