Jan. 28, 2022

Veteran Showcase: Bill Bruner

Carrie L Martin, martin59 [at] llnl.gov, (925) 424-4715

The Veterans/Military Outreach and Recruiting Program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is committed to supporting and recruiting military students, reservists, active duty and transitioning service men, women and veterans. The program’s initial focus on recruiting and hiring has aided directly in the employment of nearly 500 veterans, with many more serving on internships ranging from four weeks to one year, supporting the critical mission, values and priorities of the Lab.

LLNL is proud to showcase staff members who have served in the armed forces or are currently serving, to exemplify the Laboratory’s commitment to veterans and armed forces service members.

Meet Bill Bruner

Bill Bruner is one of many veterans who has transitioned from a military career to one at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Veterans have proven to be an asset to the Laboratory and bring a unique background and skillset in service to the nation.

Bruner joined LLNL in 2009, after retiring as a colonel from the United States Air Force, then serving in the Civil Service, followed by a stint as a Presidential appointee in the Administration of President George W. Bush. He started as the director of Government and External Relations, where he coordinated management and oversight of the laboratory’s federal, state and local government relations function; protocol, and public affairs offices; external and stakeholder relations and also served as the laboratory’s principal point of contact for parent company liaisons. Since 2013, Bruner has served as a senior advisor to the Space Science and Security Program Leader where he helps to advance the satellite and space applications line of business at the Lab.  Bruner is the point of contact for strategic relationships with private sector space companies, NASA and other government agencies with missions in space.

Outside of LLNL, Bruner is a foundation board member for the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland and an advisory board member for the Institute of World Politics, a Washington DC graduate school for defense and foreign policy professionals.

A humble beginning

Bruner, the oldest of three, was born in San Francisco and raised by his mother and grandmother who lived with them. Bruner was eight years old when the family decided to move to Oakland.

“When I was in the 8th grade, my mother pulled us out of the public schools and put all three of us in private schools,” Bruner said. “As a single mom, she couldn't really afford it, but she (correctly) believed that the public schools in East Oakland were providing us with inadequate preparation.”

Bruner attended Bentley School in Oakland for 8th and 9th grades followed by Bishop O'Dowd Catholic College Preparatory High School from the 10th grade until graduation, where he was honored as an S.S. Kresge National Achievement Scholar. 

After high school, Bruner was accepted at Cal Berkeley and attended for a year. However, he was still living at home for financial reasons and the commute became too much. Bruner changed schools and ended up graduating from San Francisco State with a bachelor’s in physical science (astronomy).

It was Rev. Dr. Hamilton T. Boswell, pastor at Jones Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, that Bruner credits as his role model. “Dr. Boswell was not just a pastor, but also a champion of equity and justice,” said Bruner. “He founded the first African-American credit union in the Fillmore and established the first federally funded senior housing project in San Francisco. He put me in leadership roles and gave me the opportunity to speak from the pulpit just about every Sunday as a teen,” said Bruner. “He taught me so much: from good stewardship to social consciousness and a passion for justice.”

A passion for flight

The movie Star Wars was definitely a fan favorite in the 1970s, but for Bruner, seeing the film actually changed the trajectory of his life. It was a pivotal moment that was the start of a decades-long military career.

Bruner was studying film at San Francisco (SF) State when Star Wars came out. “I am a little embarrassed to admit it, but after I saw the film, I walked into the Air Force ROTC detachment at SF State and signed up to be a fighter pilot.”

Bruner joined the Air Force ROTC with a pilot-technical scholarship in 1977 and was later commissioned in December of 1980. On Jan. 15, 1981, Bruner then reported for active duty at Undergraduate Navigator Training at Mather Air Force Base in California.

From 1981 to 2003, Bruner had a distinguished career in the United States Air Force, from which he retired as colonel. He was an Instructor Weapon Systems Officer in the F-111 strike fighter at bases in the U.S. and the United Kingdom where he sat alert, with targets in the Communist bloc. Among Bruner’s decorations is the Bronze Star, awarded for service in the first Gulf War.

“Even though I was using 'brain-dead' 19-year-old reasoning when I walked into that ROTC detachment in the spring of 1977, it was one of the smartest decisions I've made in my life,” he said.

Bruner served in several key positions in Washington, among them as a space and air power expert on the staff of the Secretary of the Air Force; as a military fellow in the Office of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives; and as an office director within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where he won the Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul H. Nitze Award for Excellence in International Security Affairs.

Bruner’s educational path continued while in the military. He graduated with distinction from the National War College and the School of Advanced Airpower Studies. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

Bruner has had many memorable moments throughout his military career. “Two moments that stand out was claiming victory over Iraq after working in the offensive air campaign planning cell in Riyadh during Desert Storm and 9/11.

“I watched the World Trade Center towers get hit the morning of 9/11 on TV but had to leave for a meeting at the White House, so I picked up my classified and went outside to catch a shuttle,” Bruner said. “Enroute to the White House in the shuttle, we looked back at the building we just left and saw a giant pillar of black smoke.” Bruner can still remember the thoughts going through his head in that moment.

After his military career, Bill was appointed as the Assistant Administrator for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs at NASA by President George W. Bush.

“Serving the country in uniform taught me priceless lessons about living a life of service, sacrifice, personal discipline, leadership, patriotism, loyalty, integrity and so much more," he said. "It has sent me to countries on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. It has given me brothers and sisters in arms with whom I have risked my life and for whom I would take a bullet today. It gave me a ringside seat as a witness to history (and even allowed me to play a small part in it) at wartime meetings in the White House Situation Room, sitting behind the Secretary of Defense, at meetings with the National Security Advisor, Secretary of State, Director of the CIA and other National Security Council members. It put me on the floor of the House Chamber during the State of the Union and made me a part of the planning cell that waged the decisive strategic air campaign against Saddam Hussein in 1990-91.”

Military experience has given Bruner an edge in his roles at LLNL. “Since part of my job is outreach to some of my old colleagues in the military and the space community, my military experience has been invaluable,” said Bruner. “It also taught me to operate as a contributing team member in a large, mission-focused national security organization which has served me well at the Lab. The Lab is a good place to work for any patriot who wants to serve our country.”