Battalion Executive Officer Reece Turner: Leading by Example

When St. John’s Military School cadet Reece Turner looks back on his sophomore year of high school, a year he spent at a large public high school in Texas, he pauses, before saying, “I was surprised to see how the students in my high school were behaving. I had been enrolled at St.John’s Military School for the previous four years. I realized then that St. John’s had put me on a whole other maturity level. My family and I had decided I should go home to Texas for my sophomore year, but looking back, I regret that I left St. John’s for that year.”

Today, in his senior year at the all-boys, military boarding school in Salina, Kansas, Reece is the battalion executive officer- the second highest ranking cadet on campus. He’ll be graduating in the spring with offers from ten colleges, nearly $80,000 in total offered scholarships, and plans to study either political science, or neuropathology, while playing soccer.

The road that led Reece to his current place of earned success, was not without its challenges, but it was a road lined with family members and mentors who supported him every step of the way.

Reece was born in Tobolsk, Russia, the historic capital of Siberia, then home to about 93,000 people.

“The conditions of Reece’s early childhood were that of neglect,” said Shirley Turner, Reece’s adopted mother. “He was living in a very poor orphanage with barely any food, or toys. Such deprivation for children is devastating.”

Shirley adopted Reece when he was three, and the two formed an immediate bond. When asked about the most influential person in his young life, Reece doesn’t hesitate before answering, “It’s my mother.”

Shirley remembers with pride how Reece excelled intellectually during his childhood. Speaking with tones of unconditional love in her voice as she says, “When you adopt internationally, you pray for whatever God will put on your plate. I was so fortunate. Reece is extremely gifted.”

Reece, Shirley, and his five other adopted siblings were living in McKinney, Texas when Reece was ten years old. Looking back on his childhood, before enrolling in St. John’s, Reece is candid as he recalls, “I had a lot of anger and behavior issues. I was a kid who was just mad at the world.”

Shirley looks back on Reece’s childhood and recalls wanting to give Reece every opportunity to thrive, both academically and socially, in an environment that would offer him personal attention and structured discipline; something, she feared he would not receive if he attended the large, public high school in their town.

“As a single parent, I wanted to give Reece an opportunity to be exposed to strong, positive, male role models,” she said. “I wanted to put him in a system that would guide him through his growth and development. He was so gifted, I knew he would benefit from an institution that focused on developing the whole person—a program that focused on his character, and his spiritual and academic development.”

The summer after Reece completed sixth grade, Shirley enrolled Reece in St. John’s Military School’s summer camp, a four-week program that focuses on the tenets of physical fitness, character development, and individual and team leadership. Seeing Reece excel in the summer camp program, and understanding that full-time enrollment would offer him more of the same leadership opportunities, plus give Reece the benefit of smaller classrooms, more personal attention, a structured environment, and the presence of strong male role models, Shirley and Reece made the decision that Reece would enroll in the school for sixth grade.

Looking back on his first few weeks as a new boy at St. John’s, Reece remembers the struggles of adjusting to life away from home.

“The first six weeks were really hard,” Reece remembers missing his mother most of all. “I couldn’t just wake up in the morning and go downstairs and see her. That part was the hardest.”

As the weeks progressed, Reece’s feelings of homesickness waned, and he began to bond with his fellow cadets.

“I’m still best friends with my roommate from sixth grade,” says Reece. “Justin Gilbert. The two of us, Blase Whitting, and Chris Reilly have been friends since the very beginning. We’ve been playing soccer together, and now we’re all part of the cadet leadership staff.”

The desire to earn a leadership position at St. John’s Military School was a motivating factor that drove Reece to succeed from day one.

“When I came to St. John’s, the Battalion Commander was Enoch Lau,” he remembers. “I looked up to him a lot when I started. I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to earn the position of Battalion Commander.”

Reece knew that in order to earn a leadership position, he would have to earn it through his involvement in the school, and through academic and personal success.

According to Shirley, Reece’s determination to become a leader immediately caused him to flourish socially.

“He joined the drill team, the boy scouts, the advanced military skills team, the honor guard, the color guard, the cannon brigade, and the soccer team,” said Shirley. “He was a member of the chapel council, and he began volunteering in the community.”

Shirley laughs as she remembers, “Then one day he told me he had to go practice the trumpet. He had never even played an instrument before!”

Participation in such a wide variety of teams and activities put Reece on his intended path toward school leadership.

“Before he went to St. John’s, Reece was very individual,” said Shirley. “The first change I saw in him was his willingness to be part of a larger group. I knew such socialization was important for
him.”

Despite four successful years at St. John’s, Reece and his family decided that Reece would spend his sophomore year back home in Texas.

“We thought it may be an opportunity for me to be closer to home, and go to school in a less structured environment,” recalls Reece. “All of my public school teachers complimented my maturity, but after being at St. John’s, I wasn’t happy in public school. The classes were so big, and I didn’t like the way the other kids behaved. I was ready to go back to St. John’s for my junior year.”

Now a senior at St. John’s Military School, when Reece looks back on his personal transformation since he first stepped foot on campus the summer before sixth grade, he acknowledges positive changes that are both academic and personal in nature.

“I’m a totally different person,” Reece says with much sincerity and self-awareness. “I take my grades seriously now. I always shoot for As, and I always get my homework done. It’s a top priority for me. When I first came, I used to get mad at every little thing. I would have outbursts and throw fits. Now, I’m disciplined, and I respect my superiors.”

When asked about the faculty and staff at St. John’s who have had a positive influence on his life, Reece is happy to discuss a long list of mentors. “A lot of what I’ve learned about leadership, and a lot of who I am now, has come from Capt. Bell. One of the most important things he taught me was to praise in public and criticize in private. That’s how I choose to lead. I praise my battalion staff in public, but if someone isn’t doing what they should be doing, I talk to him about it in private. I don’t criticize him in front of others.”

Reece continues to name faculty and staff who have served as the strong, positive male role models in his life that Shirley had wanted him to find.

“There’s Gunnery Sgt. Mark Giles. He’s been like a father to me. And Sgt. Jordan- I’ve learned so much from him. And Maj. Stelljes, the Commandant, he’s been such a good influence on me. Our former president, Andy England, is a great person too. I used to meet with him frequently. And our headmaster, Dale Browning is one of the nicest, most humble, and most successful people I’ve ever met.” Reece pauses before adding, “That’s another thing that’s so great about St. John’s. There is no teacher you don’t like. They’re all amazing, and you get real face time with true leaders.”

As a member of the battalion staff, Reece is part of an influential group of cadet leaders who meet every Wednesday to talk about the welfare of the school.

“We get to weigh in on topics that get passed down from the president. It’s amazing what involvement and influence we have.”

Now in his sixth year at St. John’s, Reece, like Shirley, has become one of the school’s strongestadvocates. The greatest proof of Reece and Shirley’s shared confidence in the mission of St. John’s? Reece’s 14-year-old adopted brother Ryan enrolled in the school this past year.

“I wanted to go,” says Ryan. “My mom saw how it changed Reece. He used to have a lot of anger issues, but not anymore. Reece doesn’t get mad like he used to. My mom thought St. John’s would help me become a better person too.”

Like Reece, Shirley adopted Ryan, who was born in Guatemala, at age two. It was important for her that Reece and Ryan have the opportunity to bond through shared experiences. Shirley also felt that the structured environment and the wide variety of leadership opportunities at St. John’s would offer Ryan a foundation for his own personal development.

“Ryan is extraordinarily introverted,” said Shirley. “He wants to save the world. He has very strong Christian beliefs, and he’s always been very community-oriented. He was doing well academically, but I worried that in the large public school system he was getting overlooked because he was so quiet. He was never going to get called out to receive extra attention in that environment. I wanted him to develop better study habits, and bond with friends, and bond with his brother, and learn skills that would carry him into the future.”

Ryan shares his mother’s perspective about the opportunities in front of him at St. John’s.

“For me, being at St. John’s is not about changing myself,” said Ryan. “It’s about gaining a variety of experiences that I can use in the real world.”

While it’s early in the semester, Ryan has already made strides toward personal improvements.

“I’m a better, more academically responsible person compared to where I was last year,” said Ryan. “I used to have a lot of trouble keeping up with homework. I would stay up all night, but I don’t do that anymore.”

Ryan also has the support of his older brother, the battalion executive officer, helping to ensure his success. Reece speaks of Ryan with enthusiasm.

“He’s doing great so far. I would never want anyone to think that because I’m the second highest ranking cadet on campus that he gets shown any favoritism, so I watch him from a distance,” he said. “I want him to have his own experiences at St. John’s. I do check in on him though. Every Thursday I go see Ms. Wooten, our academic dean, and I ask to see his grades. I talk to his teachers too, and on Saturdays, I order him pizza.”

There’s a smile in Reece’s voice as he adds, “He’s getting good grades now. He’s a really good kid.”

Learning to be accountable for yourself, to be responsible for others, and that to lead, one must lead by example, are the principles of St. John’s Military School, and the foundation of its cadets’ academic and personal development.

For Shirley Turner, knowing her sons are developing such life skills is an affirmation that an education at St. John’s has been the right decision for each of her sons.

“St. John’s allows the walk of a boy to become the steps of a man,” said Shirley. “When you send your son to St. John’s, you’re enabling him to become the man he should be by providing him with resources he can’t get anywhere else.”