"The Army Experience"
Narrator: Tom Vitzelio
Interviewer: Raelee Vitzelio
Date of Interview: January 2021
Did you like being in the Army?
I really enjoyed my time being in the military, there were several reasons why. The first was the fact that you got to develop strong relationships with people from across the nation. You know one of my best friends while I was in the military was from Arizona, and I had another good friend that was from Florida. We all became family, we told stories about our families, our experiences.
Another reason why I enjoyed being in the military was being able to have the opportunity to serve my country. I do take pride in that because I was not just doing it for myself, I was doing it for family and to make sure they were protected and not only them but everyone else in the United States.
What do you remember about the day you were enlisted?
I do not remember much. I remember really thinking about it, and to be honest it took me probably twelve years to make the decision about signing up. I wanted to do it when I was in high school. But I was not sure, there was always a “I don’t know.”cI wanted to go to school, so it was something that I agonized with.
Really it was not until 2000 in summer, teaching high school, that I said to myself, “You know what, I needed something new, something new to do.” It was something that I wanted to do, so I did it.
I vaguely remember going down too MEPS, which is the military processing area in San Diego and having to take a couple of tests and going into the room and raising my right hand and taking the oath. That is what started the process for me to go to basic training and to officer candidate school.
What were some of the reasons you joined the Army?
There really was not a person that said, “You should do it,” but one person that I always say that I look to is my Uncle Pat, because my Uncle Pat and I were always close, just an overall great man. He had served in Vietnam in 82nd Airborne and just the stories he talked about; just always how prideful he was about his service in the army.
So that is something that I always had in the back of my head. My family has a history of service in the Armed Forces, my grandfather was in Army Air Corps in WWII, my great grandfather was in the Navy prior to WWII. I have countless uncles who served in different branches in the army, air forces. Cousins who served in marine core and the air force.
So, there was a family tradition there, and I think that it was just the idea of serving my country. My Uncle Pat had an influence on why I joined the army.
How did you imagine the military life before you joined?
My expectations was that it was going to be very physically demanding and that would be the thing that took its toll; however I really found out that it was the mental workout that you got.
It was the first time being away from my family for an extend period, I left my girlfriend at the time who now is my wife alone to hold down the house and just being with out them.
At first you are around a bunch of strangers and just being away from home, the mentally toughness and the fact that you were constantly just early on under a lot of stress and pressure. That was something that really held on to me, and there was also that fear of was trying not to laugh at other people because, there were some characters in my unit or base in Fort Benning where I served. So, you did not want to laugh in line, or get in trouble for laughing at people, but it was just the mental.
My Uncle Pat would always say “Mind Over Matter”--you know do not mind because it will not matter.
What was one of the worst days you experienced in the Army?
One of the worst days I think I ever experienced was celebrating my thirtieth birthday in a Georgia swamp in a pouring down rainstorm in the mud. It was probably the lowest point because it was a birthday, an important one and having nobody around, the only person that was there was my squad member, Villimar from Ecuador. I just remember feeling very alone because its not like I can pick up the phone, we were out down range in training.
How do you think your time in the military affected you?
think it made me a stronger leader and made me more understanding an open to different people of different beliefs and different backgrounds. It also taught me that you needed to be able to work at speeds and levels because not everyone was on the same page. It taught me the value of service and being committed to serving whether it was the people in my unit or my squad or even the entire country, it taught me pride and what that meant. How so many men and women served the country, some of them who lost their lives defending the country. I would never take back the experience that I had; it was tough but something that I would never want to change.
Okay, final question: what are some fun things you and your friends did together while you were in the Army?
There was a bunch, I remember one time there was this guy that kept falling asleep on guard duty when we would go out and deploy and set up our positions. So, one time we took his gas mask and threw tear gas can into his fox hole, and he could not find his gas mask, so he got stuck in there. He tried to run away, he ran into a tree and knocked himself out.
We all had a good time picking on one another, but besides picking on each other, we would shoot the weapons for fun or just blow-up random stuff.
This oral history was completed in Professor Melanie James' English class in 2020-2021. The oral history is shared with the narrator's permission and has been edited for length and clarity, as well as to protect the narrator's privacy.