CDR Desmond Walker
Commander Desmond Walker is from Hollandale, Mississippi, and graduated from Norfolk State University in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science in Electronics Technology. He also earned a Master of Engineering Management from Old Dominion University in 2012, Joint Professional Military Education Phase I from Naval War College in 2015, and Master of Business Administration from Central Michigan University in 2020 through various off-duty educational opportunities.
After completing the requirements for Seaman to Admiral-21, he served as Well Deck and Small Boats Division Officer and Assistant Training Officer in USS Bataan (LHD 5), completing one Fifth/Sixth Fleet deployment, and executed wet well deck and small boat operations in support of Hurricane Katrina humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, earning the Humanitarian Service Medal. He also served in the Reactor Department in USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), managing 25 Sailors in maintaining chemistry controls for reactor plant and propulsion plant water and the monitoring and reinforcement of radiological controls. He served as Operations Officer in USS Carney (DDG 64) as the executive leader of 54 Sailors while being responsible for maintaining unit operational readiness in support of battle plans and coordinating day-to-day requirements for managing the command and deployed to Fifth/Sixth Fleets where he synchronized the first-ever Griffin Missile test launch for Commander, Task Force 55 in the Arabian Gulf. He served as Chemistry/Radiological Controls Assistant in USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), excelled at anticipating problem areas in management of 26 assessable chemical and radiological programs. Achieved a 25% improvement in shipboard radiological work practices and kept 12 chemical parameters within specification for 100% of plant operations during maintenance availabilities, training cycles and deployments.
Ashore, CDR Walker served on the staff of Commander, Navy Recruiting Command as a Nuclear Programs Manager in support of nuclear officer accessions. He also he served on CNO’s staff as the Section Head for Amphibious Warfare In-Service Readiness. His OPNAV tour culminated on the personal staff of the CNO as a Special Assistant and was his Navy Liaison Officer to the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Strategic Initiatives Group, focusing on the improvement of Navy and Marine Corps’ increased integration, interoperability, and interdependence. CDR Walker most recently served as the Director for Combat Systems, Afloat Training Group, Mayport. Led 70 personnel in providing dynamic, quality afloat training to Navy and Coast Guard Sailors across 12 warfare areas.
Desmond volunteered as the Navy Service Affiliate for the National Naval Officers Association (NNOA) from March 2019 to August 2020. He has been published in the April 2018 issue of the United States Naval Institute (USNI) Proceedings Magazine, titled Nuclear SWOs Are Ready to Fight. He commentary was published in June 2020 by USNI Proceedings Online, titled The Burden of a Black Naval Officer.
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
Failure in the moment rarely feels good. The degree of the failure is as gut-wrenching in magnitude as the amount of energy a person puts into achieving success. However, if you can find a way to dust yourself off, set a new goal and try again, eventually success is achieved.
During my first division officer tour, I struggled to qualify Officer of the Deck (OOD) and Surface Warfare Officer (SWO). No one qualifies at the same pace. There were several factors that contributed to the difficulties I faced. But, it was during this tour that I learned to focus on the things I could control and not worry about the things I couldn’t. The increased toughness and resiliency were necessary for my successful matriculation through the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program. Now, with a clear path to XO/CO Afloat, my firm foundation will sustain me as I take on new challenges toward greater successes.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
“Wake up. Grind. Sleep. Repeat”. In the day-to-day battle of establishing a work/life balance, I wanted to be deliberate about making time for my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. When I wake up, I have an idea of what I want to accomplish professionally. Physical training is a part of my weekly schedule. Planning quality time with family and self-care is included in my time management considerations. Deliberate planning for every aspect of my life increased the efficiency and effectiveness of my life.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
I normally start the day with a good workout. I had a serious neck surgery years ago and made a lifestyle change that resulted in developing an affinity for obstacle courses like Spartan Races. As for a routine, I may listen to a podcast, read a newspaper or magazine article, or read/listen to an inspirational scripture or writing. It’s about setting the tone for the work/life balance based on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being each and every day.
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO?
The Surface Warfare Community is driven by milestone achievement. First tour – qualify SWO. Second tour – Advance qualifications and screening department head. The day-to-day lifestyle of the typical SWO will revolve around daily requirements that are in greater number than there are hours in the work day (or a 24-hour period). Don’t allow the narrow focus of just accomplishing daily tasks and leading your division cause you to lose sight of the prime directive: qualify SWO.
Advice to ignore – Don’t overly commit to the saying that Chief Petty Officers’ primary duty is to “train JOs”. As a mindset, it creates an opportunity for the Chief to usurp the Division Officer’s administrative authority as the officer in charge. Consequently, the DIVO may also willingly delegate authority or responsibility to the Chief because it allows for short term mission accomplishment. The new officer may feel tactically or technically incompetent and default to the Chief. This is acceptable as the Chief works to get the officer “up to speed” on the spaces, personnel, and equipment under their charge. However, the officer IS overall responsible. The Division Officer and the Chief should collaborate more like two sides of the same leadership coin.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
“The Right to Lead” by John C. Maxwell. It discusses the deliberate development of character and courage of great leaders. Leading and managing people does not come naturally for some people. In the journey to figure out what kind of leader someone wants to be, it lays a great foundation for consistent introspection toward more effective leadership.
How do you set priorities and manage your time?
As an Operations Officer, I learned that you can never do everything you want to do. Something always changes, goes wrong, or doesn’t work as intended. I was doing risk management everyday by deciding that certain tasks just were not going to get done today. So, I just starting planning. Look at all of the sources of information at my disposal. Assess all of the requirements that are at my level of accountability. Then I executed. As I said earlier, there is not enough time in the day. There was no time for worrying about why the plan didn’t work. Recognize the lessons learned, apply them, then try again. We operate in a very dynamic environment. There will never be a cookie cutter way to manage your time. Be ok with making some mistakes.
What is your most effective daily habit?
Engaging with my teammates. Getting to know their passions, desires, and goals, gives me insight into what’s important. When those relationships have better clarity, it allows me to give guidance in a context that they can appreciate which may foster a greater willingness to buy-in to the missions at hand.
How do you define success?
I define success by the accomplishments of the sailors and officers I lead and mentor. Whether it is selecting for a commissioning program, achieving a qualification or career milestone, or having a plan to successfully transition out of the Navy, if the people within my sphere of influence are satisfied with their outlook on life after engaging with me, then success is assured.