Victory Over Adversity: NCOA Commandant Rises to the Occasion

  • Published
  • By Bailee Russell
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Julia Bruner was a 21-year-old high school dropout working as a retail checker in Midland, Texas, in 1996 when a coworker brought up the possibility of an Air Force career during a conversation.

It had never entered her mind until that moment.

Twenty-five years later, Chief Master Sgt. Julia Bruner, the first female commandant of the Sheppard NCO Academy, is using her victories over adversity to focus on taking care of, developing and encouraging Airmen.

“It’s the job I never knew I wanted and am truly happy to have found,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for all and is truly what you make it.”

Bruner’s road to a successful Air Force career was initially met with a roadblock when she visited the recruiter’s office. As the oldest of seven siblings, working and helping provide for the family was a higher priority than education. She obtained her GED to fulfill the education requirement and was off to basic military training on July 14, 1996.

Despite having no idea what to expect after enlisting, she said she soon realized the structure she was thrown into was something she had craved her entire life, which made it easy for her to adjust. She said she found herself pushing to do more, be more, and credits this to her many mentors, namely retired Chief Master Sgts. Priscilla Jackson and Anna Collings, who encouraged her to always go the extra mile and prioritize taking care of herself.

It was another mentor, retired Chief Master Sgt. Charles Kimball, who taught her how to be a leader of leaders, first by creating a strong foundation. That foundation began at home as a single mother to her only daughter. As her family-centered foundation grew stronger, she began to rise through the ranks, carrying with her the idea that people matter, connections matter, and that people need each other to lean on.

Throughout her career, whether through personal experience or mentors, Bruner said her success is based a desire to be a stellar example for her daughter and other Airmen, as well as a genuine love for the service that has given her so much. She said she also asks herself, “How can I give back to the Air Force?”

As the NCOA commandant, Bruner said she prioritizes taking care of Airmen and wants to ensure students are taking care of their health and well-being, adding that no one can carry out an assigned duty to the best of their ability without first taking care of themselves. She said she will also work to develop the Airmen the Air Force needs through team-oriented training, helping her students learn to work together like a well-oiled machine.

The chief said much like the Air Force became a reality and fulfilling career for her, it can be the same for others. She said although everyone has a story, they don’t have to let that story define them as a person. She said she will continue to rise to the occasion, using her humble beginnings, and journey through both enlisted and life, to inspire others to do the same.

“This life is available to you, you just have to go get it,” she said. “Make it happen.”