FORT LEE, Va. (Dec. 2, 2010) -- As a Soldier, Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Walker dwells in the world of the senior noncommissioned officer whose primary responsibility is to take care of Soldiers.
As pastor of a church, Rev. Walker is a foot Soldier for the Lord who is charged with leading and guiding members of the congregation toward salvation.
Walker has embraced both roles and sees each as a means to connect with people, improve their condition and the communities around them.
"The spiritual life and the military life parallel," said Walker after a church service during the summer. "Some of the same values and principles are taught within each and some of the same issues arise in each."
Walker’s spiritual life is centered around the First Baptist Church in Freeman, about 30 miles south of Fort Lee, where he has been pastor for three years. The rural church has a congregation of roughly 125.
At Fort Lee, Walker was the maintenance NCOIC of the Soldier Support Center. He arrived at the installation in 2007 and is currently on terminal leave after 30 years of service.
A native of Southampton County, Walker said he joined the military to escape life on a farm where sun-up-to-sun-down, backbreaking work was a daily routine. The 50-year-old received a spiritual calling early in his military career and became an ordained minister 20 years ago. Since then he has dedicated his life to leading others to a place of fulfillment – as a member of the clergy and as a Soldier.
"People are looking for leadership, for examples," said Walker, "somebody they can cling on to, to tell them ‘It’s bad, but it’s not that bad.’’’
Walker said he cultivated his leadership skills by being true to himself and to the Army, working hard and learning from a long list of people who supported him along the way.
"As a young sergeant, I paired myself with those leaders who would mentor and teach me, those who said, ‘Walker, this is the way you make it,’" he recalled.
Making it meant doing the right thing. Walker said he never desired to accelerate his progress through the ranks or harm people to get what he wanted.
"I learned to stay focused, learned to work hard and what I didn’t have, I learned to just sacrifice and do without," he said.
Those qualities have served him well as a member of the clergy. Walker said his position as pastor is in many ways similar to being a top ranking NCO: you have to take care of people, show compassion and lead by example. But the job is dissimilar as well.
"At a church, you are dealing with a whole different type of person," he said, "a whole different type of attitude, of needs and wants," he said. "In the military, a lot of things are already provided. At a church, I can always meet needs with prayer, but when people are hungry and need a meal, they’re coming to say, ‘Can you help me in another way?’
"It can be quite challenging."
Walker said he pastors with a deep sense of compassion along with a willingness to share wisdom and knowledge with congregants. Part of that process, he said, is allowing church members to freely express their thoughts and feelings – in church. He said he is so adamant about it, that he has interrupted his own sermons to gauge thoughts and opinions.
"I believe that everyone in the church has a voice," he said, "and I think they should be heard. There are a lot of people who are in church and have opinions but they are provided the opportunity to express them. That’s why God has given us wisdom to correct and make things right. It’s all about communication."
Walker walks the same walk as Soldier and pastor. He carries himself in an understated way, a way that doesn’t call attention to his 20 years in the ministry, 30 years pushing troops or promotes his church or his cause.
He’s naturally easygoing, always upbeat comfortable to be around and essentially the same individual, one that reaches out to people and one in which people reciprocate in kind. He said this ability makes his work worthwhile.
"Being able to communicate with people, with all nationalities, all races and being able to tell them what makes us one and what really brings us together, not what makes us different, is something that has always motivated me," said Walker.
Walker’s military career will come to an official end in January. He said he will have more time to lead his congregants and explore other options. He said his mission as a foot Soldier isn’t bound by church walls.
"Other than being a pastor, I want to branch out into the community," said Walker. "I can see myself being a leader in the community, possibly in politics; just helping people out and getting involved with people in the community."