Date: June 29, 2016
Interviewee: Vincent Petracco
Interviewer: Melissa Ziobro
Transcriber/Editor: Casting Words/Melissa Ziobro
Place: Monmouth University
Melissa Ziobro: OK, my name is Melissa Ziobro I am an instructor of history here at Monmouth University and I’m interviewing Vincent Petracco today. He’s a recent graduate of the university. Today is Wednesday, June 5th, 2013, and we are on the campus of Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey. So, Vincent, thank you for coming out today. Tell me a little bit about your life before joining the service. Where were you born and raised?
Vincent Petracco: I was born in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Went to Point Pleasant High School and graduated in 2003. After high school I attended Rowan University for a year pursuing a degree in music education. Decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Left that school and came home to hang out for a little while and joined the Coast Guard in 2007.
Ziobro: Tell me a little bit about your family life?
Petracco: I grew up in a house with my…I have an older brother, Nicky Petracco. We also grew up with my parents and my grandparents as well. We had a pretty big family. We used to spend a lot of holidays together and everything. We used to take weekend trips up to the Poconos when I was growing up, and also spent a lot of time on the water. We had a boat always at some point in my life growing up. Spent a lot of time on the water, or down at the Manasquan Inlet. That’s where I first realized what the Coast Guard was about. I spend a lot of time observing the Manasquan Inlet Coast Guard station, and saw that was something that I was really interested in doing.
Ziobro: Tell me a little bit about your other hobbies?
Petracco: I’m an avid runner and a triathlete. I compete locally in marathons, triathlons. I completed a half Ironman triathlon last September. I work at a running store as well, I’m the Assistant Manager. I really enjoy any sort of fitness. I also like to fish, just did a fishing trip. We’re doing a fishing trip with the Veterans Association next week, and I’m planning that for a while. That’s pretty much my two main hobbies, I guess.
Ziobro: Did you consider any other branches of the military, or was the Coast Guard really your only option?
Petracco: I think when I was younger, I considered other branches. It’s, “Everybody? Who doesn’t want to be a Marine? It’s super cool.” Then, as it got closer, I just didn’t feel like I was, not that I was lazy at the time, but I felt like there was just too much going on for me to do that. I wasn’t sure if I was interested in going overseas and doing that whole side of things, seeing the Coast Guard in action all the time, living so close to the beach during my whole life. That just stuck in my head as the branch that I felt I’d be most cut out for.
Ziobro: OK. How old were you when you actually joined?
Petracco: I had just turned 22 years old.
Ziobro: What would you say your motivation to join was?
Petracco: I have a cousin who’s still serving, and he was a chief when I joined. He was a pretty good mentor for me, as he was an E7. Then for me he really answered all the questions that I had. He’d let me come and visit his unit…That really helped answering any questions I had regarding whatever side of the service, whether it’s a rescue swimmer, law enforcement, or anything like that. He really helped me decide what I wanted to do when I got in.
Ziobro: Now you mentioned your cousin. Are there other members of your family who have served in the military?
Petracco: My grandfather on my father’s side served during World War II. He was actually also in the Coast Guard in the 1940s for just a couple of years. I think one or two years. That was it.
Ziobro: Do you recall him talking often about his service?
Petracco: He never even mentioned it actually, until I joined. So I never knew that he was in the Coast Guard and in any other branch of service until I joined. Then he’ll always bring out all the medals that he had and his flags, and all the stuff.
Ziobro: When people think of the military like you said, they think of the Marines or Army ground troops. Tell us a little bit about what the Coast Guard does.
Petracco: The Coast Guards molds you to be a jack of all trades and master of none, sort of thing. You do so many different jobs. Ideally, we’re in the market for saving lives. We do a lot of search and rescue missions, recreation of building, safety exams, and inspections. So we do a lot of…basically lifesaving. We’re always out when the season is really bad, and no one should be offshore. That is when we’ll go out and make sure that no one needs our assistance. We’ve done a lot of…throughout the years, also law enforcement. So any type of maritime, law enforcement, or safety that needs to happen throughout the…states including Guam and Puerto Rico, that we’re involved in that. We do a lot of drug and addiction, illegal immigrant, and additional operations. That was my main job down at South Fort. So delve out with that, but we’re most well‑known for just a maritime lifesaving service.
Ziobro: Now once you decide to enlist, where do you go from there?
Petracco: I came in at Jersey, it’s the only boot camp that the Coast Guards has, so everybody goes to Cape May. If you’re an enlisted member of the Coast Guard, you’ve been through Cape May as the original and the only boot camp. So it really hasn’t changed too much. From there, you either go to your first duty station as an E2 or E3, rather it be a boat, a Coast Guard cutter, or a station, an air station, an electronic support division, some sort of sector. There’s a whole bunch of different places you can go, or you can get what’s called a guaranteed A school. I think what the other branches do, you get sent to boot camp, your basic training, and then you go straight to your tech school. In the Coast Guard you can do that. You can go straight to your tech school if there’s an opening for you, once you graduate boot camp, or you would go to a duty station first. You would go and get, say, some on‑the‑job training or you’d just be stationed there as an extra set of hands, doing painting or whatever.
You could also get qualified as a boat crew member and stuff like that, but for the most part, you’re going to go to a duty station first and then when the spot opens up at whatever school you want to go to, then they’ll send you for your specialty.
Ziobro: OK, and what might your specialties be?
Petracco: There’s a whole bunch. I was an engineer, so what’s called a Machinery Technician. You work on the boats, the engines, whatever, you fix things when they break… On the big Coast Guard cutters you’re important, you’re valuable, because if something happens and you’re in the middle of the ocean, you need that group of engineers to get together and fix whatever the problem is.
Then there’s boatswain’s mates, they drive the boats. Whoever’s going to be the one driving the boats, that would be a boatswain’s mate. They have electricians’ mates who deal with the electrical stuff. They have ITs that deal with the computer stuff.
OS is operational specialists which deal with radio communications. Rescue swimmers called aviation survival technicians are the guys that jump out of the helicopters and swim around and save people. The enlisted side has a whole different bunch of specialties.
Ziobro: OK. What was your boot camp like? You might discuss education, physical training, things like that.
Petracco: It was a lot of sleep deprivation, actually. You do a whole lot of educational stuff obviously, spend a lot of time in a classroom and learning about the history of the Coast Guard, the Coast Guard’s missions, different boats, enlisted and commission ranks and rates.
They teach you seamanship, all sorts of stuff, knot tying and whatever else. Then like I said, a lot of sleep deprivation because our mission involves a 24 hour watch all the time. There’s always somebody on the radio watch, there’s always somebody on some sort of boat crew duty that might have to get up and do a search and rescue case in the middle of the night.
They would make us stand two hours watch in the middle of the night, so between 1000 and 0500 in the morning while you would be sleeping, you’d get up and you stand your watch, then you’d go back to bed.
Then there’s also, obviously, some physical training. We would do group runs and IT, they called IT, it was incentive training, somebody does something stupid you do push‑ups or sit‑ups or whatever for God knows how long.
I think that the physical side of it, similar to other branches, maybe not quite as intense. Our boot camp’s eight weeks. I’m not sure how long the others are, definitely a lot of mental stress and emotional stress that ties in with the physical stress and just exhausts you on whole different level.
Ziobro: What do you remember about your instructors there?
Petracco: I had two great instructors actually. My company was both of their last companies as company commanders so it was really cool to have their ‑‑ they were both very knowledgeable obviously ‑‑ both chief aviation electrical technicians, so they would work on the helicopters, actually, the helos that the Coast Guard has.
They would be involved in fixing whatever sort of stuff, I guess, was broken on the helicopters, for lack of a better term. They both were actually…Our one Chief Miller, he made senior chief while I was there, so he was, like I said, very knowledgeable.
What was great was that towards the end of our eight weeks, around week seven or so, they started to open up a little more and give us a look at what the Coast Guard was actually like outside of boot camp, so not so in your face yelling at you all the time, but really more of a personable type of approach, I guess you could say, to us, which helped us get ready for what was going to be after boot camp graduation.
Ziobro: Was there ever any point that you thought you wouldn’t make it through boot camp?
Petracco: I don’t think there was a point that I thought that I wouldn’t make it through. There was a point where I thought I didn’t want to go through with it anymore. It wasn’t so bad that…I questioned myself for a couple days. Why did I do this to myself?
The first two weeks were just miserable. Even if you do everything right, somebody’s always doing something wrong and then everybody’s getting punished for that because “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” They would always say.
That helps you get together and work more as a team and work better together, which, obviously, is important for the rest of your time in the service. Definitely stressful for some times, for sure.
Ziobro: During that eight weeks, were you able to communicate with your family at all?
Petracco: I wrote a lot of letters. I don’t think we got a phone call home until week five or six.
I was a squad leader. There was four squad leaders for the whole company of…I think it was around 85 or something like that, three males and a female. I was in charge of making everyone get off the phone at a certain time.
If you have two minutes to talk on the phone, that’s it. You get your two minutes. That’s including the time it takes to dial the number and, whatever, put in your calling card number, and then, talk for however long.
I felt like kind of a jerk for being that guy that had to tell people if you couldn’t get through in two minutes to anybody, that’s it. That’s your time up. That sort of weighed on me a little bit, but it needed to be done to make sure everybody had time to do what they had to do.
I wrote a lot of letters, and the phone calls, but then, in week seven, we got what’s called off‑base liberty. You get eight hours during the day on your last Saturday there where you can go out on the town, which was nice because I actually graduated on June 8th in 2007. It was just about summer in Cape May, so a really nice time to walk around the boardwalk and the beaches there. At the time, my girlfriend came down and spent the day there. We walked around the town together, and it was pretty cool.
Ziobro: You said you were one of four squad leaders. How did you become a squad leader?
Petracco: How do I put this? I’m very Type A personality. Very neat, and everything has to be the way it has to be. I guess that sort of just stuck out. They really wanted the people that were the most squared away to be in charge of the rest of the people, obviously. The people that were going to be the most honest as well.
This was actually before I was a squad leader. There was one person’s lock that was unlocked, and they wouldn’t tell us who it was, but we had to go in and check and see whose it was. If I didn’t come out and tell the company commander whose lock it was, everybody was going to be punished.
That was like, oh, what do I do? Do I tell on this one guy? Then, I saw his lock undone, so I did that. I think they saw the integrity and everything there, which I guess helped make their decision for who would be best suited for that job.
Ziobro: So, selected by the commanders, not a popular vote. OK.
Petracco: Right. No, definitely not very most popular vote. You’re definitely not one of the most popular guys ever, but you have to make the more difficult decisions for the whole company.
Ziobro: You said one of these four squad leaders was a woman. How was that received by the group?
Petracco: I think she was mainly in charge of passing down the information to whoever the females were in the unit. I think we had 8 or 10 or something like that.
They had to have at least one female because the way they had the berthing set, berthing being beds and where you sleep and everything. We had a hallway in the middle, and a berthing area on either side, but connected to my berthing area was another little area that had about 10 beds in it, and 10 racks. That was the female berthing.
We weren’t allowed to go in there, so they had to come out and pass down the information. She wasn’t unaccepted by the group, I guess you could say.
Ziobro: Other than your sleeping arrangements, was everything else in the training integrated by gender?
Petracco: Yeah. Absolutely.
Ziobro: OK. Well, let’s talk about your career after boot camp. Can you tell me about the rough dates and locations of your military service? How did it unfold?
Petracco: Sure. I graduated, like I said, on June 8th, 2007. I took my 12 days of earned leave that I had from boot camp. They give you 12 days of leave. I went home afterwards and went down to spend time with family in Florida for a couple days, came back, and I went straight to my specialty school, my “A” School in Yorktown, Virginia.
I was there from roughly June 22nd until October 28th of that year for my Machinery Technician “A” School to become an engineer. They teach you all about the boats, the outboard engines, the big diesel engines. They teach you about air conditioning, refrigeration, and stuff like that.
From there on, I took another couple days of leave, got married in between that and my first duty station. Then, I was sent down to Fort Pierce, Florida. I reported there, I think, November 8th, 2007 and spent most of my career there, did some time elsewhere in between. I was in Charleston, South Carolina for about eight weeks.
The Coast Guard has a lot of training units on bigger bases, as well. One of our training assignments is at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. We spent some time with the Marines at Camp Lejeune doing pursuit crewman training.
It has a much longer name. Non‑Compliant Vessel Pursuit crewman. That’s the guy that, you shoot out the engines on the boats that have all the drugs and the immigrants on them that are trying to come over and won’t stop for you, and stuff like that. I did some time there and also spent some time at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Charleston, South Carolina.
I think that was it. We had two cutters stationed at our unit as well, the Bluefin and the Coral, both 87-foot patrol boats. They do a lot of four‑ or five‑day trips to see and do a lot. It’s mostly law enforcement around that area like I said. Did a couple trips on those boats as well, just as a stand‑in crew member.
When someone would take leave, they would ask the station if they had anybody that could help and go and be a boarding officer or whatever for the boat. I did that a couple times as well. Left Fort Pierce, Florida on April 17th, 2011.
Now I’m stationed up here, at Cape May, actually, right where I started, at their small boat station, which is on the same regiment as the training center where boot camp is held. I see all the recruits on a regular basis, and all that.
Ziobro: Are you considered a reservist now?
Petracco: Now I’m a reservist, yes. I got off active duty April 17th, 2011, and now I’m a reservist.
Ziobro: How did you decide to come off active duty and become a reservist? How does that work?
Petracco: I signed a four‑year agreement, so a four‑year contract. Technically, a four‑year contract is actually an eight‑year contract, because you sign four years active duty, and your second four years has to be served in either the Inactive Reserves ‑‑ the IR ‑‑ or the Selective Reserves.
The Selective Reserves is when you drill. You go your one weekend a month, then your two weeks over the summer, and you still get paid to do that. The Inactive Reserves, you basically separate completely. You have nothing to do with the service unless something like 9/11 happens. Then, you get called back to active duty still within that four years.
I chose Selective Reserves so I could still keep the health benefits. I really enjoyed serving. It’s just that it didn’t work out with school and my educational goals, so that was the main reason for that.
Ziobro: Two questions that arise. Was your wife able to accompany you to your duty stations once you married?
Petracco: Yes. She was still enrolled in school up here, so she finished her last semester up here, then came down and moved down in January of 2008.
Ziobro: Did you live in government housing, or kind of off?
Petracco: We received BAH, so Basic Allowance for Housing. Our unit wasn’t that big. I think we had 58 members. There was no government housing or on‑base housing. They would give you your basic allowance for housing and we just got a condo somewhere off base.
Ziobro: You mentioned being at places like Camp Lejeune. What are relations like between the Coast Guard and the other branches of the service?
Petracco: Everybody jabs at each other all the time, but for the most part we get along really well, at least in my experiences. We’re accepted, we use the same uniform code, military justice, and the same equivalent rates and ranks and stuff, whether it’s commissioned or enlisted. There’s still definitely, a stigma for the Coast Guard as more of a lifesaving branch that’s usually still within the country rather than overseas. We do have some units overseas in Bahrain, but a very small percentage of our service. I guess some of the other branches sometimes will joke around like, “Oh, you’ve never actually been overseas,” but for the most part I think it’s still a pretty good relationship.
Ziobro: OK, good. How would you describe the level of pressure or stress that you felt while you were at work?
Petracco: I guess it would depend on the day. For the most part we keep everything lax whenever we can. There’s the deck side and engineering side, so really at a small boat station there’s really only engineers and boat drivers basically. So you have the MKs and the BMs, the machinery technicians and the boatswain’s mates.
Engineering side is always doing their engineering thing, we’ve got our little cliques. Then you’ve got the deck side, the boat drivers over here, they have their little cliques. We would just hang out and have a good time until you hear the search and rescue alarm go off, and then you mean business. You have to go and do what you’re there for. There were times where we would get sent on a certain case where it would be stressful.
I can think of one time, it was New Year’s Eve, it must have been 2008 to 2009, and there was an incident where someone fell off a cruise ship offshore. We had already been awake for 24 hours and the seas were 8 to 10 foot offshore and it’s the middle of the night, you can’t see anything.
So situations like that, the stress level definitely rises quite a bit, but we’re trained for that. Like I said, in boot camp they really get you ready for that stressful lifestyle that you’re going to be living. Even still, at your duty station there’s always some sort of training going on to make you ready for those situations.
Ziobro: Did you recover the passenger?
Petracco: On that particular case, no, we didn’t.
Ziobro: It was a casualty?
Ziobro: In your off‑duty time, did you socialize with fellow Coast Guard men, or did you need to be away then?
Petracco: We did, we did quite often. The way it works, in the Coast Guard anyways, there are usually two duty sections, so section one, section two. And really, for all intents and purposes, you’re only ever going to see the guys or girls that are in your section. I switched all around.
So say I was in section one my last couple months there. You’re always with those people when you’re on duty, and then they’re the only ones that you can hang out with when you’re off duty, because when you’re off duty the other section is on duty.
So unless someone took leave to hang out, you really get really close with that specific group of people, whether it’s 18 or 20 people that you work with all the time. It’s nice to have that on the outside. My wife preferred that we had some time to just hang out with ourselves since I was gone 50 percent of the time anyway, but we did frequently hang out with other Coasties as well.
Ziobro: Did you personally experience or witness any discrimination while in the service?
Petracco: I never did. Like I said, we had a pretty small unit, so something like that would probably get nipped in the bud pretty quick, before it got too far anyway.
Ziobro: You mentioned this briefly before, but tell me a little bit more about your decision to leave the military. Your four years was up, right? And you decided that you would stay, well, you’re required to stay in the reserve for this extra four years. What happens when that four years is up?
Petracco: I totally plan to retire as a reservist. You still have that option to do that. I mainly only left active duty, I had a couple supervisors that weren’t great supervisors and that definitely influenced my decision to get out. I sometimes wonder if I had been in a different unit or had different supervisors, if I would’ve made more of an effort to make an active duty Coast Guard career my career goal.
While I was active duty I really got into fitness, running, triathlon, and all that, and then really got involved in education again. I was a pretty good student in high school, and then sort of faded for a couple years because I didn’t really do too much other than work and everything.
Once I got back into education, I did two years while I was active duty from Penn State’s World Campus, it was an online school. Really got interested in health, physical education, and ultimately wanted to pursue a degree in physical therapy. Which obviously you can’t do if you’re active duty, there’s just no time for that sort of schooling.
Ziobro: You said that you had some superiors who kind of soured you on the service, can you give some specific examples?
Petracco: When I was active duty I was still an MK3, so that’s an E4 Machinery Technician third class petty officer. I would work for the second classes and the first classes, and my upper command, the E7s were great, and up. A chief warrant officer was our CO, and they were always really good. It was the third classes that made second class and I guess were tired of taking the orders and then once they were able to start giving some orders really just sort of ran away with it.
The problem, I think, was that there’s always going to be favoritism somewhere, so if you really are good friends with somebody, they’re not going to make you do the work, they’re going to make this other guy do the work.
I was the victim of that a couple times, unfortunately, but I feel like even though the Coast Guard sends you through these leadership training schools and stuff like that, once you actually get back to your unit I feel like most of that goes out the window, at least in my experience.
Ziobro: Do you recall the day your service ended? Was anything special done to mark the occasion?
Petracco: The way our station is set up is there’s a big seawall where the two big boats moor up, and then we have all our small boats over here. So there’s a seawall with probably 10 foot before you get to the water and they always drag you over, your whole unit, in your dress uniform, or your work uniform, whatever you happen to be wearing that day, and throw you over the seawall. Whether you’re getting out or whether you’re leaving that unit, that’s sort of how they mark the occasion. Boots and everything, so trying to swim with all that stuff on is [laughs] an adventure for sure.
Ziobro: You survived, I commend you.
Ziobro: What do you miss the most about active duty service?
Petracco: I really enjoyed being out there, like being in the public eye. I really enjoyed helping people and being out on the water especially. I got paid to drive around in boats 50 percent of the year, and to me that was really cool.
Whether I was there doing a search and rescue case, or some law enforcement, or we were out there just to have our presence known and be like a safety cushion, buffer, or whatever. It was great. I would wake up every morning and know that that’s what I’m going to be doing. I’m just going to be driving around in boats all day and that’s it.
I really enjoyed the feedback from the public because for the most part you rarely ever find someone that’s going to condemn you for your military service. So usually, if someone sees you in uniform, whether you’re out on the town doing something for the station, or you’re on your way home and somebody pulls up next to you at the light and they see you in your uniform and everyone always says, “Thank you for your service.” And that was a big thing.
Now when I’m on my weekend duty for the reserves or my two weeks active duty for the reserves, I love that. I go everywhere in my uniform, I love that feeling of the public really thanking you for your service.
That’s another thing for sure, the camaraderie that you gain from active duty service. Like I said, you have your two duty sections and you get really close to them, you’re spending all your time there. I spent more time with them than I did with my wife, and that wasn’t on purpose, that’s the nature of the service.
We would come on duty, you had to be there by 6:30 in the morning and you wouldn’t leave until, it’s 48 hours on 48 hours off. And then every other weekend you’re on duty for 72 hours, but you’re actually there for more time than that because you’d come on duty at 6:30 and you wouldn’t leave until about 11:00 two days later.
So most of the day, you’re there, most of the year you’re there, unless you take leave. You get really close to most of these people, and I’m still friends with most of the people that I served with obviously, but just in passing, maybe on Facebook or a text here or there. But to have that real camaraderie all the time was nice. I miss that for sure.
Ziobro: Now your answer inspires me to ask, did you consider a career in law enforcement?
Petracco: I did actually. Let’s see, like November 2010, I actually flew up here from Florida to take the civil service test. I tested with the Delaware State Police, and this was a couple months before I really started to focus on physical therapy.
I really was interested in law enforcement. I enjoyed doing it. I had done it for four years. But then I thought a little more about it, and my wife and I discussed having the crazy schedule that we’d already had for the four years. And maybe that wasn’t what we wanted to do is another who knows how long of a crazy schedule.
I decided against that after a couple months and focused more on the physical therapy.
Ziobro: What do you miss the least about active duty service?
Petracco: I think late mornings. Your off going day at the station, like I said, you wouldn’t get out until 11 or 12 o’clock, so probably those three or four hours that I could’ve saved every off going day are probably my least favorite part.
Just waiting around, you have to do your clean ups, have to make sure the berthing rooms are spic and span, and they’ll do a little white glove test to make sure there’s no dust on all the stuff or whatever. That’s probably it.
Ziobro: Would your house pass the white glove test right now?
Petracco: Yes, for sure.
Ziobro: Have you carried that over with you?
Petracco: Like I said, very Type A. Everything has to be right, and I always make the bed because my wife can’t make a bed because she insists, “Well, they trained you how to do it correctly, so…”
Ziobro: You should just use your talents and abilities then, to help your wife. Very good, now your four years is up, you decide you’re going to college. How much did you know about the GI Bill type benefits that were available to you?
Petracco: I had actually used some of my GI Bill while I was active duty, which I wish I hadn’t done at this time. But the way it worked was, like I said, I went to Penn State. They had a world campus so you could do everything online, it was incredible.
They were about as expensive as Monmouth as far as per credit tuition rates, but they would give a discount for active duty military, so they bumped it down to $299 per credit. I was using tuition assistance at the time because I was still active duty, which would cover $250 per credit, so there was a little bit of excess for the extra tuition and also any fees or books.
I would use the GI Bill, it’s called GI Bill Top‑up, and it would cover whatever TA [tuition assistance] wouldn’t cover. I was pretty familiar with it. And then getting out, the veterans’ organization we have here and the supervisor, just incredible. Any question you had it was answered, pretty much.
Ziobro: Are you referring to Jeff Hood?
Ziobro: How did your family and friends react to your decision to pursue a college degree?
Petracco: My wife had told me for a while to go back and go to college. My grandparents would have been super proud to know that I was finally going to finish school since I had started a couple years prior. My parents were pretty excited. My mom never went to college, my dad went and never finished. I don’t know why, but he just never finished college. I knew that he was pretty happy about it, but, one way or the other they would have been fine if I decided to do it or not.
Ziobro: Why did you decide to attend Monmouth of all the schools you could have selected?
Petracco: I grew up in Point Pleasant and this is a nice local school. Aside from a field trip I had taken here back in sixth or eighth grade or something like that, I hadn’t even been to the campus before I applied. It happened to have the perfect major, Health and Physical Education. The courses you were required to take for that major were perfect for pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy as far as what I would learn in undergrad that I could apply later in my education.
Ziobro: Were you able to use any of your credits from Rowan, from prior to your service?
Petracco: I think I had 12 credits from Rowan from that first semester that transferred over. That wasn’t too bad.
Ziobro: Every little bit helps, right?
Petracco: And then 52, maybe, between my active duty service and what I got from Penn State.
Ziobro: Let’s discuss that. How does your active duty service translate to course credit?
Petracco: Not so great. It depends on what your degree’s in. For my degree here, I needed six one credit physical education courses. I got one credit of weight training from basic training. That counted for one credit toward my however 128 credits that I need for graduation.
If you go to school for, say I was going for Criminal Justice, I probably would have had a whole lot more because of all the qualifications I had while I was active duty. All the schools I attended and the training programs, probably would have had at least a dozen credits from all that, which would definitely have helped me a little more.
Ziobro: Were you required to take the standard entrance exams as a veteran or were those waived for you?
Petracco: No, those were waived. I think because of the numbers of credits that I had, those were waived.
Ziobro: Now that you’ve graduated, and congratulations…
Petracco: Thank you.
Ziobro: Are you pleased with your decision to come to Monmouth? Do you think that was the right choice?
Petracco: Yes. Absolutely. I remember the first time I came to the campus I was blown away. The school I attended previously, Rowan, there’s a big highway that runs in the middle of campus you need to cross to go to your dorm and buildings. There was always some sort of stupid construction going on. It wasn’t a real attractive campus.
Then I got here. I was actually walking down the pathway to come here right now, and thinking how much I’m going to miss this place because they don’t offer my grad program and I’m going to hold all my other schools to a super high standard now having been here before.
Ziobro: Have you been accepted to a grad program?
Petracco: Not yet. I apply next month, July 7th.
Ziobro: Very good. Which of the courses you took before graduating stand out in your mind?
Petracco: Sport and exercise psychology was a good one, because I’m so into fitness, and the instructor, Dr. Konopack is a marathoner as well. Him and I got to know each other really well, we’d share stories and everything. He had a good insight. He knew the topic. All the stuff that we covered in class I felt was relevant to my life, what I do, why my mind works the way it does with everything.
Ziobro: If you had to pick a least favorite course, could you do that?
Petracco: Yes. Mind body connection was my least favorite course. I couldn’t even tell you half of what I learned in that class. It had something to do with…I have no idea. We took the most ridiculous quizzes that had five questions each, and if you got one wrong, it would destroy everything.
Ziobro: How would you describe your relationship with your professors? Do you think they were aware you were a veteran, do you think that influenced attitudes towards you at all?
Petracco: I think most probably didn’t know I was a veteran until last semester the hurricane hit. My unit was going to be recalled and I was going to have to do a lot of law enforcement stuff locally for security for the local units, and stuff that didn’t have power. I had to contact my professors last semester and let them know that there’s a possibility I’m going to be recalled, I’m a reservist, this and that. I don’t know if it was until then they’d realized…
In the past, unless it would get brought up in class or they would see me at a veteran’s organization event, I don’t they were too aware. I enjoyed keeping a close relationship with most of my professors and going forward with graduate school getting letters of recommendation. They were all more than happy to oblige me for that. I don’t know if it was the military service, or I was a little bit older and relatable to them, and that really helped.
Ziobro: Did you wind up getting activated for Sandy?
Petracco: No, I didn’t, they activated the unit for Massachusetts, don’t ask me why, and brought them down here.
Ziobro: Interesting. How would you describe your relationship with your fellow students who are not vets?
Petracco: I had a pretty select group of people that I spent time with on campus. Only because there’s a big gap in age, for one thing and maturity level as well. I would tend to associate with the older students and slightly mature as well. I definitely hung out with some non‑veterans as well.
Ziobro: In the course of your schoolwork here at Monmouth, did you ever refer to your military service in a written assignment, class discussion, oral presentation, etc.?
Petracco: Yeah, there was a couple of times where I did for sure.
Ziobro: What role does Jeff Hood, the coordinator of Veterans Affairs, play in your semesters here at Monmouth?
Petracco: He makes sure we get paid. For one thing, that’s huge, obviously if you don’t get paid we can’t come to school, period. Also he recently got two computers over there in his office which is huge. In the commuter lounge there’s only a certain number of computers especially during finals or midterms. They’re completely used up, all day long. To have two extra computers for veteran use helped us get our work done.
Ziobro: How would you characterize your transition from the military to campus life?
Petracco: If we didn’t have the Veterans Organization, the Veterans Association here it would have been a completely different transition and a little more difficult- to have other veterans to connect with and go through the transition together really helped. It lets you learn the ropes around campus, where to go, where you need to be, where certain things are, where to go to eat and what not to eat. Definitely was beneficial for sure.
Ziobro: Are there any particular needs that you felt as a student veteran that the university did not meet? That they might do better on in the future?
Petracco: We had a panel back in October where the same question was asked. The only thing I can think of, and it’s not super important, maybe waiving…There’s a class requirement for interdisciplinary perspectives. I took a course on extra sensory perception and there’s courses on all sorts of stuff.
For the most part, we have a lot of experience on different perspectives, I guess you could say. Half the people here have been overseas in some sort of conflict and the other half spent a lot of their time dealing with a military type lifestyle, which most people don’t understand in the first place. Maybe weighing that experience in and getting rid of that three credit course if you write a paper on it or something like that.
Ziobro: I believe I know the answer to this. Are you a member of the Veterans Association on campus?
Ziobro: What role do you play in the organization?
Petracco: I was the president until I graduated.
Ziobro: Who will succeed you as president?
Petracco: Dave Brown is going to be the new president.
Ziobro: Is that something that’s voted upon?
Ziobro: Tell me a little bit about the activities that the Veterans Association planned while you were here?
Petracco: Our main goal is to raise awareness of the contributions veterans make whether it be around campus or in the community. We always try to do some sort of fundraiser, fund drive or collection drive for troops, deployed troops. Last year we started doing deployed canine units. We like to collect all the stuff for the deployed troops and canines.
Also this semester we did a chili cook off, which I thought was a great idea, over in Anacon Hall. I think we had 14 entrants. We only had two weeks to plan it, and for our first year I thought that was a pretty big success. In the future that can be a signature event for our organization to raise awareness. Whatever we raised from that benefited the veteran organization, whether it be some small scholarship we can offer to veteran students or someone needs help with books. Something like that we’ll have the funding available to use for it.
Ziobro: Do people tend to stay involved with the group once they graduate?
Petracco: Some do. Our previous President, Hunter, is still involved, via Facebook. He came on last semester to do a veteran panel for a class discussion and I’ll probably do the same as well.
Ziobro: What future activities would you hope the group will get involved in?
Petracco: I hope that we can continue to grow and start having highly recognizable events on campus. The chili cook off was a good one to start and maybe that can grow bigger. Whether it’s like we do 5K run to benefit a Wounded Warriors project or some other organization would be pretty beneficial.
Ziobro: Did you take part in any other extracurricular activities on campus?
Petracco: I don’t think I did. I can’t remember. [laughs] No.
Ziobro: Let’s see, now I assume I know the answer to this. Did you live on campus or are you a commuter?
Petracco: I’m a commuter.
Ziobro: You were commuting from where?
Ziobro: You are of course married. What role does your relationship play in your life as a university student?
Petracco: She was pretty much the motivator for everything, for school. My education goal started with, I wanted to be a physical therapist’s assistant, which is a two-year associate’s degree, a certificate, even. Then she’s, “Well why don’t you just go further? Instead of being working under somebody you could be the person somebody’s working under.” And I was, “Yeah, but that’s a doctorate degree, I can’t do that, can’t go back to school. I can’t- I don’t know if I could finish a bachelor’s degree.” She was definitely the one to motivate me to do all that stuff.
Ziobro: Now, you obviously have a long road ahead of you. Will your veteran’s benefits help you the whole way? Or is there one pot of money you’re limited to and once you use up your allocation it’s done?
Petracco: You have a certain amount of months of benefits. I think it’s 36. The way that works is it would be 36 months as an enrolled student. Whenever I finish school, whenever the semester ended May 14th or 15th, or something, that would be when the benefits would stop for that period of time.
Each semester’s roughly four months. It doesn’t run year round. I have 13 months and some days left now. Once I start graduate school then I will start using that again and it’ll be however long a semester is. It counts actually per day. If there were 90 days in a semester it would subtract 90 days from your benefits then whatever’s left over you still have for the following semester.
Ziobro: So it would behoove you to take as many credits as possible…
Petracco: At one time.
Ziobro: In that…
Petracco: Absolutely. If you take six credits, it’s still going to take away that same number of days eventually.
Ziobro: Interesting. Would you say most of your friends now are former vets or friends from before or after your military service?
Petracco: Most of the people I associate with are still active duty, reservists, or prior vets. I honestly don’t hang out or talk to too many people from high school. I have one friend that I’m still close with. Other than that it’s mainly people who I’ve met since my service.
Ziobro: Do you have friends from the service who are students on other campuses?
Petracco: Not that I’ve served with.
Ziobro: Did you work while going to school?
Petracco: Yes, I did.
Petracco: I’m the assistant manager, there’s a running store in Pier Village, and then also I worked on campus as a supplemental instruction leader for the physiology with anatomy course where I reteach whatever was taught in the lecture to students who felt they needed the extra help.
Ziobro: Did you find it difficult to find a school, work, life balance?
Petracco: I tried to do all my schoolwork while I was here in between classes so that by the time I got home whatever time I had at home would be for my home life.
Ziobro: If you could change one thing about your undergraduate academic experience, what would it be?
Petracco: I’d probably have taken a minor, or a second undergraduate bachelor’s degree because I feel my time went by too fast here.
Ziobro: If you had the opportunity to speak to a veteran coming to campus for the first time, what advice would you give him or her?
Petracco: Like we talked about using the GI Bill, to make sure to take as many credits as you can handle at one time so that you aren’t wasting those benefits. A lot of veterans are either one way or another, they want to be involved in the Veterans Organization or they want to completely ignore it and be involved in the college party scene. I’d caution them that if you do too much partying and your grades really suffer, then you’re not going to get those benefits. If you start failing classes they’re going to take those benefits away and you’re going to have to repay them which would be not great.
Ziobro: I was going to ask how that worked. Do you need to maintain a certain GPA, in each class or cumulative GPA.?
Petracco: You can’t get anything lower than a D, that they won’t pay for. If you fail a class, the Veterans Administration won’t pay your GI benefits for that class. Whatever they would have paid into that class you will then owe.
Ziobro: Do you think that’s a problem for a lot of veterans?
Petracco: I don’t think it’s a problem for a lot. There’s a few probably. As a whole I don’t think it’s a problem.
Ziobro: Is there anything that we have not covered that you would like to include in the interview?
Petracco: No, not that I can think of.
Ziobro: Well, then we are all set. Thank you so much.
Petracco: Oh, my pleasure.