Coast Guard Family Month: Steadfast follower

It’s not unusual for a child to follow in their parent’s footsteps. Matthew Walker, a retired Coast Guard captain and former commanding officer of three cutters: Manitou, Polar Star and Steadfast, has two sons who followed him into the Coast Guard – Fireman Maxwell Walker, currently attending Machinery Technician “A” School in Yorktown, Virginia, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Alan Nielsen, a boatswain’s mate at Station Coos Bay in Charleston, Oregon. One of his sons even followed his footsteps to one of the very cutters he commanded.

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Cmdr. Matthew Walker, commanding officer Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast a 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutter homeported in Astoria, Ore., celebrates Coast Guard Day with his sons Alan Nielsen and Maxwell Walker during a port call in San Diego, Aug. 4, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
Cmdr. Matthew Walker, commanding officer Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast a 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutter homeported in Astoria, Ore., celebrates Coast Guard Day with his sons Alan Nielsen and Maxwell Walker during a port call in San Diego, Aug. 4, 2012. Alan and Maxwell both followed their father into the Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Matthew Walker.

Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read

It’s not unusual for a child to follow in their parent’s footsteps. Children emulate their parents during play and get a small taste for what they do in “career day” type events.

However, for those with parents in the Coast Guard, they get a unique opportunity to experience their parent’s military and underway lifestyle in what’s called a Tiger Cruise.

Maxwell Walker and Alan Nielsen, both dependents of Cmdr. Matthew Walker, commanding officer Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast, dress up in the fire fighting ensemble during a Tiger Cruise aboard the Steadfast, a 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutter homeported in Astoria, Ore., May 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
Maxwell Walker and Alan Nielsen, both dependents of Cmdr. Matthew Walker, commanding officer Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast, dress up in the fire fighting ensemble during a Tiger Cruise aboard the Steadfast, a 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutter homeported in Astoria, Ore., May 2011. Tiger Cruise’s are a Coast Guard tradition where dependents are allowed to sail alongside family members who are stationed aboard the cutter. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Cmdr. Matthew Walker.

Tiger Cruises give dependents an opportunity to travel aboard a Coast Guard cutter for a few days and experience what their Coast Guard members are up to while they are away from home.

Matthew Walker, a retired Coast Guard captain and former commanding officer of three cutters: Manitou, Polar Star and Steadfast, has two sons who followed him into the Coast Guard – Fireman Maxwell Walker, currently attending Machinery Technician “A” School in Yorktown, Virginia, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Alan Nielsen, a boatswain’s mate at Station Coos Bay in Charleston, Oregon.

“Max and Alan had the opportunity to experience the life of a Coast Guardsman, wear the fire fighting ensemble, talk with the young sailors serving aboard the cutters, and get a taste of life aboard a cutter,” said Matthew. “The day-in-a-life wasn’t a story they read in a magazine, it was something they got to feel, taste, see and hear. It is obvious now it was an adventurous job that was very attractive to both of them.”

The senior Walker also followed his father, a Korean War Marine Corps veteran, into military service.

Matthew enlisted into the Coast Guard in 1982 and started at Station Oregon Inlet in North Carolina. From there he went to sonar technician school, served aboard the Cutter Dallas, attended college, served in Desert Storm and was selected for Officer Candidate School. During his distinguished career, Matthew was the first officer of the rank captain to achieve Master Cutterman in Coast Guard history. The Coast Guard’s Master Cutterman program was created in April 2007, to formally recognize those members who have distinguished themselves throughout their careers with more than 20 years of sea service. While many Coast Guardsmen have proudly been named as permanent cuttermen, serving more than five years afloat, only a select few have endured the rigors of sea duty for 20 years.

Maxwell Walker and Alan Nielsen, both dependents of Cmdr. Matthew Walker, commanding officer Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast, dress up in immersion suits during a Tiger Cruise aboard the Steadfast, a 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutter homeported in Astoria, Ore., May 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
Maxwell Walker and Alan Nielsen, both dependents of Cmdr. Matthew Walker, commanding officer Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast, dress up in immersion suits during a Tiger Cruise aboard the Steadfast, a 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutter homeported in Astoria, Ore., May 2011. Tiger Cruise’s are a Coast Guard tradition where dependents are allowed to sail alongside family members who are stationed aboard the cutter. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Cmdr. Matthew Walker.

“I chose the Coast Guard because it’s what I knew,” said Maxwell, who was born when his dad was the commanding officer of the Manitou, a 110-foot patrol boat homeported in Miami, and grew up on bases and cutters. “It just always seemed like the thing to do. I never really thought about anything else.”

Matthew never pushed his kids toward the Coast Guard, but did tell them that after they graduated high school he wanted them to go to college or join a military service.

“I wanted them to choose their own path,” said Matthew. I did not want to be an over-bearing parent that forced them into the Coast Guard and then have them potentially resent me for forcing them into the service.”

Maxwell didn’t just follow his father into the Coast Guard, but he also followed him by serving aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast, a 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutter homeported in Astoria, Oregon, and one of the three cutters his father served on.

Maxwell didn’t intend to follow his dad and walk the decks of the Steadfast. He wanted to go somewhere warm after graduating from Training Center Cape May, New Jersey, but the Coast Guard had other plans. Before heading to A school, Maxwell was stationed aboard the Cutter Steadfast.

“How coincidental that he had sailed aboard the Steadfast as a dependent and then came back to serve on the very cutter I had commanded,” said Matthew, who was very proud to hear Maxwell got stationed aboard the Steadfast. “My name is on the plaque of commanding officers, and here was the son of one of those COs [who] has the opportunity to walk the same decks and handle the same rails that his father did.”

Matthew’s service and stories inspired Maxwell as a kid, and he remembers how he always thought what his dad did was the coolest thing in the world.

Capt. Matthew Walker swears in his son Maxwell into the Coast Guard during a ceremony, August 2015. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
Capt. Matthew Walker swears in his son Maxwell into the Coast Guard during a ceremony, August 2015. Maxwell and his stepbrother Alan Nielsen, both followed their father into the Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Mathew Walker.

“I grew up on crazy sea stories,” said Maxwell, whose dad was part of the first tactical law enforcement units as an enlisted member and went to Columbia to fight the drug cartel. “He had a really cool career and I hope that my career is half as cool as his. One day I want my kid to think that of me. Maybe that’s selfish, but I’m proud of what I do and I love doing it.”

“I was pleasantly surprised to see my sons follow me into the greatest of all United States services,” said Matthew. “I sincerely believe in the Coast Guard and everything it represents. It represents all that is great about this country. Every parent experiences anxiety about their children and wish for their children’s happiness and success. I have been blessed that Max and Alan chose the Coast Guard, a profession I know will bring them happiness and success as it did for me.”

Kids will continue to follow the footsteps of their parents and parents will continue to want the best for their children. The Walker family is already well into a third generation of military service and a second generation of Coast Guard service. A third generation of Coast Guard service is already on Maxwell’s mind and sure to get the support from his family as well as the Coast Guard family.

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