Senate hopeful discusses influence of service as Marine infantry officer

Creating a tradition when his children were young, U.S. Senate hopeful John Brunner would read stories about military Medal of Honor recipients at family gatherings before enjoying their meal together.

“These were stories of heroes — those who sacrificed so much on our behalf,” Brunner said. “It gave me an opportunity to share with my children why we are here and how the military secured the freedoms we enjoy.”

One of several candidates seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill in the upcoming election, Brunner is no stranger to demanding circumstances.

And from his own four-year active duty stint in the Marine Corps, he has become intimately familiar with the level of dedication required by those making the decision to serve.

A 1970 graduate of Whitfield High School in St. Louis County, Brunner chose to pursue an education prior to joining the Marines.

He began attending Harding University in Arkansas, and during his junior year decided to visit the recruiting station in Little Rock.

“The Vietnam War was going on and I felt motivated to serve,” Brunner said.

Impressed by the Marine’s marketing program, the young college student was soon on his way to Quantico, Va., to complete the Platoon Leaders Class — a 10-week program where college students discovered if they had the mettle necessary to become Marine Corps officers.

“It was a rigorous program,” Brunner said, “based upon a DOR (drop on request) concept,” where attendees could elect to leave the program at any time.

According to Brunner, the training cycle involved instruction in physical fitness, drill and ceremony and several other military-focused training aspects designed to be extremely demanding so to weed-out individuals not fully committed to becoming officers.

During the training, recruits were asked to select a specialty, and Brunner chose the infantry.

“They looked at me like I was crazy,” Brunner laughed, “because usually no one signed up for infantry.”

Successfully completing the demanding course, he returned to college and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in management in June 1974, at the same time receiving his commission as a second lieutenant.

The fresh officer then returned to Quantico for his six-month basic school receiving training in tactics, maneuvers, and the handling and operation of various weapons.

In January 1975, he was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C., as a rifle platoon infantry officer.

Shortly after he arrived, he was deployed to Vieques, a small Island south of Puerto Rico, to meet up with his unit already stationed there.

“We spent 40-50 days training with militaries from other countries, practicing amphibious landings and assaults,” Brunner said.

He later completed two additional deployments to the North Atlantic and Mediterranean.

In 1978, he received word from his father that the family business was struggling and decided to leave active duty service to assist with the company. He went to serve 14 years in the Reserves.

Brunner said that over the years, the skills developed in the Marines have translated to the corporate world and helped him transform a struggling business into a successful company, while also providing lessons preparing him for almost any challenge.

“With all the leadership skills and abilities you acquire from the Marines, the most important thing you learn is that it is an organization that looks out for its own,” Brunner said.

“And the one thing I have taken from the Corps that has helped me in my business endeavors is that you take care of your people,” he added. “You listen to them, support them and in the end, they will help you accomplish the mission and overcome virtually any obstacle.”

Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.

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