OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Gary Walker grew up in Okeechobee and graduated from Okeechobee High School in 1989. Three weeks later, he joined the Navy and spent the next 22 years serving his country. He did basic training in Orlando. His first training was as an aviation logistics specialist, and he did that from 1989 until about 2000, when he switched over to military police.
“Aviation logistics is almost like a parts manager,” he explained. “Basically, you take care of all aviation parts. The actual term was aviation storekeeper, and that term is steeped in tradition in the Navy. They explain it better to the civilian world as a logistics specialist.” He did some budgeting, parts, money management, ordering parts, inventorying parts and managing all the spare parts that go into maintaining naval aircraft.
He did several tours in that capacity, from Iceland to an aircraft carrier, and then he got to Pensacola to a training squadron that shared a hangar with the Blue Angels. This helped him become interested in becoming a Blue Angel, he said. “In 1996, I was selected to be a Blue Angel. I did that for three years, traveling all over the country performing air shows, which was quite amazing.”
After that tour was up, he wanted to try something different, so he asked to convert over to military police. With military police, there is law enforcement and there is anti-terrorism. He went into anti-terrorism. “I wanted something a little more high-speed, something a little more exciting,” he said when asked about the change from parts manager to anti-terrorism. “I felt like I had climbed to the top of the aviation logistics world by being with the Blue Angels. I felt like I had climbed to the top of my career but was only at my mid-career point if I was going to retire at 20 years.”
He went to the police academy in San Antonio at Lackland Air Force Base and then went to Italy. “That tour was amazing!” he said. When that tour was up, he made E-7 which, he said, is a big milestone in a career.
He had orders to a ship in Washington state, but before he went there, they sent him to a military investigations course at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. They taught him forensics, crime scene investigation and interrogations. “It was a really good course.” When he arrived on his ship, he was the only MP aboard. It was his job to maintain order and discipline on the ship. “You’re kind of like the dean of the ship in some ways,” he said. “You investigate crimes against the uniform code and military justice, which is kind of our legal system. They asked if I wanted to be the team leader for anti-piracy operations. We were going to be going on deployment. Of course, I said yes. They sent me and my team to school in San Diego with the Navy Seals to learn to perform non-compliant, anti-piracy operations.” They took many months of training before the ship deployed to the Persian Gulf. They were off the coast of Somalia with joint task forces conducting anti-piracy operations. “That was exciting, of course. I was looking for excitement, and I found it. We felt like we were making a difference in the world. It was a really rewarding tour.”
Walker retired in 2011 in Washington state. “I was blessed and fell into my dream job, which was Boeing. Even back in my Blue Angel days, Boeing built the aircraft the Blue Angels fly, the F/A-18 Hornet. I always dreamed of being at Boeing. I found a great job.” He has now been there nine years and works as their facility maintenance manager.
Walker and his wife, Stacey, have six children — five girls and one boy, ranging in age from 21 to 10. His oldest daughter will be commissioned in the Air Force next year and is in the Air Force ROTC now.
Although he lives in Washington, his parents still live in Okeechobee and he visits as often as he possibly can.