WASHINGTON: Marine Corps commandant Gen. Robert Neller is getting a new wingman who should help him mightily in the budget wars. The appointment of Glenn “Bluto” Walters as the four-star assistant commandant of the Marine Corps is good news for helicopters and high-tech as well.
Walters is a Cobra gunship pilot and technology enthusiast who protected funding for infantry-portable solar power and enthused to colleagues over the 3D printer his wife bought him as a gift. (He also has a fondness for old slot machines, but don’t expect those to show up in the 2018 budget). Most important, while Neller came to Marine HQ from command tours outside DC, Walters is already in Washington and immersed in the budget process as deputy commandant for programs and resources (“P&R”), i.e. the Marines Corps’ money man.
In his new role as “ACMC” — pronounced, duck-like, “ack-mack” — Walters will be second only to Neller. Our sources say the Marines’ top four-star general and its newest should work each other well. While their no-nonsense temperaments are similar enough to mesh smoothly, their skills and backgrounds are different enough to be complementary.
Walters “is not dissimilar from the commandant in that he’s very knowledgeable, plain spoken,” said one former Hill staffer staid. But unlike Neller, “he knows the building well, has spent a lot of time working resources, and has great relationships on the Hill.” (“The building” is insiderese for the Pentagon). By contrast, at Neller’s confirmation hearing, he walked into the buzzsaw known as Sen. John McCain.
“Gen. Walters has been in the building, he knows the pitfalls, and he knows the levers,” one senior defense official said. “He’s capable of working his way around the margins to get the mission done.”
He’s also capable of being diplomatic. Not long ago, Navy versus Marine Corps budget fights “could be pretty contentious,” the official said, “(but) over the last few years, particularly with (Vice Adm. Joseph) Mulloy on the Navy side and Bluto on the Marine Corps side, it’s been a much more collegial process.”
“He’s just an easygoing guy, easy to work with, great sense of humor,” the official summed up. “He is plain-spoken, but not in a ‘my way or the highway’ (manner). He’s willing to hear another side of the argument, but there’s no question when he arrives at a position he needs to take, he’s firm, he’s not giving up any ground — he is a Marine.”
Walters will likely play a similar role in future budget battles. “Traditionally, the commandant’s been the outside guy, and the ACMC’s been the inside, programmatic, run the inside of the pentagon business (guy),” the ex-staffer said. “Given their respective skillsets, it wouldn’t be surprising if … that continues.”
Another Marine Corps custom that Walter’s appointment revives is having an infantryman as commandant and an aviator as assistant. While “every Marine is a rifleman,” to quote a service slogan, the ground and air arms of the Marine Corps have different experiences, perspectives, and expertise, so institutional politics push to have both represented at the top of the service. (The third Marine community, logistics, never gets quite the same recognition). That traditional balance got upset when fighter pilot Gen. James Amos became the first aviator to serve as commandant, with ground-pounder Gen. John Paxton as his assistant. Amos is long gone and Paxton’s now retiring, so with the Neller-Walters team, things go back to normal.
Walter’s current job as deputy commandant for programs & resources will go to another aviator, Maj. Gen. Gary Thomas, who now commands the 2nd Marine Air Wing.