MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
“All I ever wanted to do was to be a Marine,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Nicholas V. Vitale, Marine Gunner with the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force. “I would see my dad and all his friends, and I’m like ‘oh yeah, that’s what I want to do.’”
Having grown up near Naval Air Stations, where his father was stationed and Marines guarded the gates, Vitale said he dreamt of being a Marine since he was five years old. In his teens, in February 1985, Vitale stepped on the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, went through the rigorous training of boot camp, and shortly after was able to call himself a United States Marine.
“I’ve been a Marine since I was 19, and I’ve been wearing the uniform more than half my life,” Vitale said. “I am a firm believer that everything in the Marine Corps has a shelf life, whether it’s an M16A1 or a PRC-77. When they were new, they were great, and we used the hell out of them. I am the modern day version of a PRC-77 – I’m old. It’s time to turn this over to folks who can take us to the next chapter in the Marine Corps.”
More than 30 years later, Vitale closed the chapter of his Marine Corps career as he stood in front of his family, friends and fellow Marines, at W.P.T. Hill Field, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, during his retirement ceremony, June 18, 2015.
“This is a day I will remember for the rest of my life,” Vitale said. “It is a bittersweet day, but it is my time to go. I will miss putting on the uniform every day and knowing that I’m a part of a martial organization that is so much more than the mere sum of its parts. I don’t know if I’ll miss the Marine Corps as much as I will miss the individual Marines.”
Vitale has come across many Marines throughout his career, as he served both as an enlisted Marine and Marine officer. Vitale reached the rank of gunnery sergeant before he was commissioned as a warrant officer, and continued his career as a Marine Gunner.
“Nick, I first met you when I was a young captain and you were a young staff sergeant,” said Col. Matthew G. St. Clair, GCEITF Commanding Officer. “Our paths came along again at 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, and that was when I knew you as a gunner, and that is when your impact on me stayed.”
Throughout the years, St. Clair said the two kept in touch and St. Clair would turn to Vitale for his guidance and mentorship. Vitale’s last tour of duty before retiring was spent at the GCEITF – where he continued to teach and mentor Marines who came his way.
“Over the past year, it’s like I’ve stood next to a brother,” said St. Clair as he addressed Vitale during the ceremony. “I couldn’t have asked for a better gunner to be here (at the GCEITF) to lead us through this last year and to have the impact you’ve had on these Marines and the impact they will have on the service. It’s been a pleasure, brother.”
Marine leaders amongst the crowd in attendance, fulfilling capacities as staff noncommissioned officers and field grade officers and up, stood as a testament to the legacy in the Marines Vitale has advised, trained and led, not only at the Task Force, but throughout his 30-year career.
“Marines are why real leaders stay in the Marine Corps – because they love teaching, coaching and mentoring,” Vitale said. “I fully intended to do a full career, whether it was 20 or 30 years. Marines are the finest creatures on the face of the planet, and to be considered part of their mentoring and learning process, that’s the biggest rush there is.”