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Gunner and Mac have the bridge at THS NJROTC
Chief Petty Officer Gordon McLaughlin (left) and Chief Warrant Officer Wardee Gunner Bruce share scuttlebutt during a moment between classes at Turlock Highs Naval Junior Reserve Training Officer Corps. The salty Navy veterans have teamed up to take the helm of the proud program. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

From 2003 to 2006, U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer Wardee “Gunner” Bruce served as the Naval Reserve Junior Officer Training Corps instructor at Turlock High and then he retired to a life of philanthropy through organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

And then the call came this summer — it was time to report back for duty at Turlock High School.

The call came after THS had two previous NJROTC instructors relocate and retire leaving newly-hired Chief Petty Officer Gordon McLaughlin to handle 110 students by himself. Turlock High Principal Dana Trevethan knew there would be troubled waters ahead, so she called Gunner to help right the ship, after all what is a captain without a crew?

“As soon as she called me and told me she wanted me to come in, I knew what she wanted. But I figured I’m just around here not doing much so I’d come back and help,” said Gunner.

Back in 2006 wasn’t the first time Gunner retired. After 30 years in the Navy, where he climbed the ranks from Seaman Recruit to a Warrant Officer, he retired in 1992.

“The only reason I retired then was because they wouldn’t let me do more than 30 years,” he proclaimed.

Gunner joined the Navy during the Vietnam War in 1963, and he served 18 years at Naval Air Station Lemoore. While enlisted he served as an aviation ordnance man — those guys who handle the bombs and weapons — hence earning him the name “Gunner.”

“Now I’m back in the saddle again and we have a lot of work to do to turn the tide,” said Gunner.

“The NJROTC isn’t about getting all of these kids to join the military — we know only a few are going to. What this is about is teaching them the life skills they need to be successful, like being prepared, having good self esteem, time management and doing the right thing — and that is my job here,” said Gunner. “I want to help prepare them for challenges they will face in life.”

Chief McLaughlin and Gunner hope to increase parent participation in the coming years, bring in more fundraising dollars and sport an excellent rifle team, while maintaining the THS NJROTC’s already superior reputation.

Since the Turlock High NJROTC program began in 2000, the students have earned four “Bravo Zulus,” otherwise known as unit excellence awards.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.