Jeff Walter’s time in the U.S. Navy is part of a life of service

Elburn village president said Navy helped him learn about leadership

Elburn Village President Jeff Walter says serving in the U.S. Navy helped him learn about leadership.

For Jeff Walter, joining the U.S. Navy was an easy decision. At age 18, he had recently graduated from high school and wasn’t quite ready for college. His parents, who had immigrated from Germany in the 1950s, were grateful to the U.S. for the life they were able to make for themselves.

Walter and his siblings were raised to give back and serve their community. So it was a natural inclination to want to serve his country. Walter joined the Navy as a “cryptologic technician interpretive” – otherwise known as a linguist.

After 28 intensive weeks of learning Spanish at the Defense Language Institute, he was put to work in radio-telephone intercept operations. It was the 1980s and a lot was happening in Central America with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the rebels in Honduras.

Walter served active duty for nine years, mostly in Key West and Homestead, Florida, “keeping an eye on things in the countries south of Florida.” He was an air crewman, at times flying off and landing on aircraft carriers.

“There is nothing like that excitement,” he said.

He was deployed on vessels for a total of more than a year of sea time.

While at sea and aboard aircraft carriers, he employed his skills as a linguist. Although he can’t discuss what he did because most of it was classified, responsibilities for the role according to the Navy’s recruitment site include collecting and analyzing foreign language communications of interest and translating, interpreting and reporting highly technical information of strategic and tactical importance to fleet commanders and national intelligence agencies.

Walter was in Key West during the Mariel boatlift in 1980, when Fidel Castro allowed Cubans to leave the country. Thousands immigrated to the U.S., many landing in Key West. Walter said he and others from the base served as translators as the people arriving were processed through immigration.

They also worked with the Coast Guard to avoid disasters at sea as the boats carrying the Cubans traveled the 90 miles to the U.S.

“That’s when you really appreciate living in this country. ... When they got off the boat, they kissed the ground, they hugged you, they thanked you,” he said. “It was an amazing thing.”

When Walter completed active duty, he entered the Navy Reserves, spending the next 13 years working his way up the ranks. During his assignment as senior operating chief in the Naval Security Group in Detroit, Walter met Rick Biederstadt, who was the senior command chief in the unit.

Walter was living in Toledo, Ohio, at the time and Biederstadt was living in Chicago. The two men would ride together from the naval station and roomed together in Detroit. They served together multiple times after that and retired together in June 2000, both having achieved master chief, the highest rank in the enlisted chain of command.

After serving in Detroit, Walter was promoted to command master chief of the Central region, one of the largest regions, Biederstadt said. Walter was in charge of 10,000 sailors.

“You don’t get one of those jobs unless you’re someone that people can trust, can relate to, and that has a desire to serve his fellow sailors,” he said. “I trusted Jeff with everything.”

Biederstadt’s respect for Walter continued into civilian life. He hired Walter to work with him at Blue Cross/Blue Shield as a program manager in information technology.

“That’s how highly I thought of him,” he said. “Everyone loved Jeff.”

The two men remain close friends.

“And the service continues,” Walter said.

Walter is serving his second term as village president of Elburn.

“I’m paid, but it’s kind of a volunteer job,” he said.

Both he and his wife, Carrie, are very involved in the community. Both are members of the Elburn Lions Club and their two children are Leos. The family also is active in their church.

“You have to give something back to society,” Walter said. “You can’t just take. Society doesn’t grow, and to me, it’s just not a satisfying way to live. ... That’s how we live. It’s how we raise our kids.”

Veterans’ issues always have been important to him in his civilian life.

“The [American] Legion is a good organization to belong to because they lobby for veterans’ issues and there aren’t many groups that do that anymore,” he said. “Somebody’s got to be out there, looking out for the veterans, and that’s a big, national organization that does, so we support it.”

Throughout his career, he has gotten involved with his companies’ veterans employee resource groups, forming the first one at a company where it didn’t previously exist.

These groups have held veterans’ hiring fairs and helped veterans leaving active duty gain skills such as interviewing and how to write a resume.

“It’s a whole different world when you step off of active duty into the civilian world,” Walter said. “It’s nice to have people who have done it and have been there to kind of mentor you and coach you through it.”

He summed up his feelings about his time in the Navy.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” he said. “I had the best time. I got to do things that most people would never get to do. It was the right thing for me at the time. I learned about myself. I learned about leadership. I learned a lot about taking care of each other. It worked out very well for me. It shaped me into who I am today.”