Washington, D.C. --
For most Marines, drill is a fleeting memory; for Marine Barracks Washington personnel, it’s part of the daily routine; for Master Sgt. Christopher Walker, drill is life.
Despite his wealth of experience in the drill field, Walker, the Barracks drill master, actually began his seasoned marching career well before he even joined the Corps.
"Thirteen years of my life are associated with drill," remembered Walker, thinking all the way back to his teenage years in Goldsboro, N.C. "My first experience with drill was during my freshmen year of high school."
As the cadet commander of his Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps unit, Walker supervised and taught his fellow cadets how to march. Under his instruction, the unit went on to win the 1987 national drill championship in Orlando, Fla.
Walker enlisted in 1993 and carried his experience as a marching instructor to his first unit, Marine Attack Squadron 214 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz.
"We initially met in Yuma, and he was a young lance corporal and I was his corporal," recalled Master Sgt. Allen Whiteside, Barracks logistics chief. "The way you see him now, the way he carries himself … nothing has changed. That’s what’s so unique about him, that nothing has changed in all these years. He’s just one of those Marines who looks for perfection in everything he does."
Even as a young corporal, he was that Marine who everyone turned to for calling cadence for formations, forming Marines for morning exercises or just drilling Marines, remembered Whiteside.
But Walker was not satisfied to simply be known as the "squadron drill master." Walker marched onto the drill field at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and served as a drill instructor from 1997-2000.
"It was no surprise when he submitted his package for drill instructor that he was accepted and went on to be a drill master," Whiteside remarked.
Walker first commanded the drill of MCRD San Diego’s 1st Battalion and was eventually selected as the drill master for the entire western recruiting region.
After more than six years of drill as both instructor and master, Walker departed the states for Okinawa, where he deployed to Afghanistan with 3rd Marine Division.
After returning from Afghanistan, Walker received orders to the Barracks, the ceremonial soul of the Marine Corps.
As the Barracks drill master, Walker is responsible for teaching the ceremonial marchers, Marine Corps Body Bearers, Marine Corps Color Guard, parade staff and other drill-related elements how to march per the Barracks’ unique style, which is adjusted from the regular Corps standard.
"My role now is as more of a supervisor after drill is initially taught," explained Walker, who arrived at the Barracks in December 2008. "Critiquing drill is about 40 percent of my day, teaching about 10 percent. The rest of that day is administrative processes and meeting with prominent staff and sister services about drill."
Walker explained that, while he can change the drill style here as needed to best suit the situation, much of his job is as a keeper of the Barracks tradition of perfection, ensuring the high standards of the Barracks are upheld.
"My favorite part of this job is seeing the looks on Marines’ faces just before they step out into the spotlight," said Walker. "They all look the same. No one wants to make a mistake and it’s my job to give them the confidence to know they will not make a mistake. We do that through perfect practice."
The drill master also fills a related position at the Barracks as the assistant funeral director of the Marine Corps. As such, he attends and oversees many Marine funerals in the national capitol region, which includes Arlington National Cemetery, as well as filling in for, or otherwise assisting the funeral director, Master Sgt. William J. Dixon.
Despite Walker’s vast marching experience, he has an interesting opinion of the practice to which he has devoted so many years.
"Drill is supposed to be precise, but there’s nothing precise about it," commented Walker, summing up his thoughts on drill. "Precision is a relative concept. What’s precise to one onlooker is not precise to another. Here more than any other place in the Marine Corps, the individual’s perception is reality."
Walker went on to explain that he critiques and adjusts Marines based on this philosophy.
"I have to find the positions on the deck where perception is most critical," continued Walker, noting the view from the hosting official and guest of honor’s seats. "Depending on your vantage point, a platoon may look perfectly aligned, but another person in a different spot may not think the same."
The practiced drill master needs to understand the trade and own the experience, especially as it applies to the ceremonial heart of the Corps. As his old colleague can attest, the Barracks is where Walker belongs, teaching drill to hundreds of Marines and overseeing dozens of parades annually.
"The Marine Corps and the Barracks are very lucky to have him here," said Whiteside. "I don’t know anyone who is as passionate about or knows drill as well as him."