The youngest of four children, Wood was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho, to Blanche and John Albert (Jack) Wood. He was baptized as a child, received the Aaronic priesthood in his youth, and the Melchizedek priesthood as a young man. He was selected as a delegate from Idaho to the international YMCA Centennial Conference, traveling from Canada, through the Panama Canal, and throughout Europe.
After high school, Wood began studies at Stanford University, where he met Dixie Leigh Jones. He served in the French Mission from 1957 to 1959, and when he returned to the United States to complete his degree in history, he and Dixie began dating. He recalls, “Probably the most significant question she asked after we had been dating for a while was when she looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Robert, are you going to stay active?’ ” His answer was clear, and they were married in the Idaho Falls Temple on 27 March 1961.
At Stanford, Wood became interested in international affairs, particularly European affairs. While he was writing his honors thesis he came across the book, A World Restored, by Henry Kissinger. Because of the impact the book had on him, he applied to Harvard, to study at the school where Kissinger was teaching.
The Woods are the parents of four daughters and the grandparents of thirteen grandchildren. According to Wood, “Two things explain our family … First, Heavenly Father just sent us four terrific kids. And second, their mother … I would never have been able to do anything that I’ve done professionally or in the Church had I not married the right woman who asked the question, ‘Are you going to stay active?’”
Wood was the holder of the Chester W. Nimitz Chair of National Security at the United States Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, where he also served as Dean of the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group, and Dean (later, Dean Emeritus) of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies, a focal point of strategic and campaign thought in the naval services and a major research group in the national security field.