Bobby Charles Wilks was born on 12 May 1931 in St. Louis, Missouri. He graduated from Harris-Stowe Teachers College in 1954 and enlisted in the Coast Guard Reserve in 1955. He was ordered to Officer Candidate School soon thereafter and was commissioned as an Ensign in the Reserve in 1956.
He attended flight school at Pensacola and received further training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi from 1956 to 1957, earning his wings on 25 March 1957, He was designated as Coast Guard Aviator Number 735. He qualified for helicopters in 1959 and became Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot Number 343. He transferred to the Regular Coast Guard in 1960 with the permanent rank of Lieutenant.
Captain Wilks saw distinguished service at many Coast Guard Air Stations during his career, including oversea tours of duty at Coast Guard Air Detachment Sangley Point, Philippines and at Naples, Italy. He participated in many search-and-rescue cases, including one in which he earned the Air Medal. He was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1977 and two years later assumed the command of Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn.