Mike attended the University of New Mexico in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program and received a commission in the US Navy in 1979. In his early leadership roles he served in USS BAGLEY (FF 1069) in San Diego as Gunnery Assistant and then Combat Information Center Officer where he completed two seven-month deployments to the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Also at sea, he served in the Knox class frigate, USS DOWNES (FF 1070), as Senior Watch Officer and Weapons Officer; and on Destroyer Squadron 21 where he served as Combat Systems Officer and Senior Watch Officer…both billets responsible for the training of all the officers onboard.

Mike served as Executive Officer in USS INGERSOLL (DD 990) taking over just a few months following the ships devastating collision and motivated, led and  trained the ship's 320-member crew through a fifteen month Regular Overhaul in Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, Hawaii. While afloat Commander McMaster operated with navies throughout the Western Pacific to include Japan, Korea, Australia, Singapore and Canada.  Additionally, he served on a Task Force staff in Naples, Italy, as Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations.

Mike served three and a half years on the staff of Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC), first as an exercise planner and later as Chief, JCS Exercise Division - responsible for the training of all special operations forces in the Pacific region. As the leader of the exercise planners at SOCPAC he flawlessly planned and executed over two dozen major exercises including three national level classified exercises. Within this leadership role he had extensive involvement with militaries from Korea, Thailand, Australia, and the Philippines.

Mike began his teaching career as an Assistant Professor for Naval Science at California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, California teaching courses in Introduction to Naval Science, history of the US Navy, Navigation and Leadership.  He earned his Masters Degree from Naval Postgraduate School and returned to Monterey, California in 1997 where he served as Deputy Dean of Students and Deputy Director of Programs at Naval Postgraduate School. In these roles Mike developed a number of successful education initiatives to include the partnership between the Naval Postgraduate School and the Naval War College; the Executive MBA program in San Diego; and the Bowman Scholar program at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Mike is a graduate of Leadership Monterey Peninsula and served on the Board of Directors for Leadership Monterey for six years, including two years as board president.

Mike retired from the Navy as a Commander on July 1, 2001 and joined the Naval War College, Monterey Program Office as Professor of Joint Maritime Operations teaching over 2,000 military officers the art and science of planning over the course of  sixteen years.  As Professor of Joint Maritime Operations for the Naval War College he has delivered papers at conferences in Australia (2006, 2007), London (2009), Annapolis (2011, 2017).

Mike was the Naval Postgraduate School, Center for Civil-Military Relations (CCMR) naval and strategic planning representative to the US Embassy in Azerbaijan in a review of the Azerbaijani National Maritime Strategy with the Azerbaijani Navy. He was selected to outbrief the Chief of the Azerbaijani Navy in September 2008 on the results of the work.  Mike has served as the national academic advisor for the Naval ROTC Sea Power course since 2009, guiding new instructors in their role in teaching the naval history course.  He was recognized with a national award in January 2016 from the Surface Navy Association with their Special Recognition Award. This award is the associations highest honor and was awarded for superior service and mentorship in the Monterey Chapter of the Surface Navy Association.