CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Paul A. Zuzzio
Post-9/11 Oral History interview
US Army, Army Reserves / NJ Army National Guard
Date: May 9, 2012
Interviewer: William Bartleson
Summarizer: Jack McDonald, Monmouth University Student
Veterans History Project
Paul Zuzzio is a United States Army veteran who served during the Afghan and Iraq Wars. In high school, he planned to join the Army full-time and then participate in an ROTC program in college. Zuzzio was, however, concerned with his grades; and, he decided to join the Army Reserves and then pursue going full-time to college. He enlisted in the reserves after high school and received a three-year scholarship. Immediately after graduation, Zuzzio attended basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. That following fall, he attended college in Daytona Beach, Florida and participated in the ROTC program there.
After college, Zuzzio returned to New Jersey and became a retail manager for KB Toys. When he returned from Florida, his reserve unit was in Mount Freedom, NJ. Zuzzio transferred into a Drill Sergeant’s unit, became an armorer and supply clerk, and was promoted to non-commissioned officer rank. After some time there, he decided to transfer to the 466th Transportation Company in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, around the same time, his job required him to move to Ramsey, NJ. Due to the distance between his job and his unit, he decided to transfer to the Individual Ready Reserve, where he remained until June of 2001, when he left his job due to an assignment.
After his time in IRR, Zuzzio was part of Noble Eagle II. A cavalry squadron was putting together a troop of 150 plus men to augment Air Force Security Force operations at New Jersey locations. He was sent to Fort Drum for two weeks of training, in which he was trained to be part of a security force by the Air Force. Zuzzio enjoyed his time with the Air Force because he found them to be open and accepting of the Army soldiers. He participated in everything the Air Force did except they could not be deployed.
After Noble Eagle II, Zuzzio was on the search for a new job. He tried to become a cop, but he did not qualify for combat veteran preference because he had not served overseas. Instead, Zuzzio got a job in the Department of the Army at Fort Dix Ranger Patrol. He continued to work there until his deployment in 2006.
An old platoon sergeant from his cavalry troop was putting together an embedded training team, and Zuzzio reached out to him to join. The team needed a supply sergeant, and Zuzzio had a supply MOS. He got called into a meeting with the team; and, since he was the only one with a supply background, that pretty much cemented the job for him. About a week later, Zuzzio received a call from a captain who he asked him when he could start active duty. He was put in charge of getting together all the supplies that the team needed, which was a big task. Zuzzio had roughly a three-week window to get everything together and shipped to Camp Shelby in Mississippi. The team attended Camp Shelby for 6 weeks of training before being shipped out to Afghanistan.
In February of 2006, Zuzzio flew into Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan and then flew to Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan. When his team arrived, they were told they would be individually evaluated and sent to where they were needed. Zuzzio was shocked because they had just learned that his team was not going to be doing what they were initially sent to do. He was assigned as an infantry company advisor for the Afghan National Army soldiers of 2nd Kandak, 1st Brigade, 201st Afghan Army Corp in Darulaman.
Zuzzio was assigned to Camp Cobra in Darulaman, which is where he met his team. He was assigned to the battalion’s weapons company because he had experience with heavy weaponry. The team was supposed to consist of 16 members, but it was only 11. To make matters worse, they only had 8 members go and complete their first operation.
In March of 2006, Zuzzio and another E-6 were chosen to take the brigades artillery battery east to the Kunar Province, so that the 10th Mountain Division could use them for training. They were paired with a captain and another E-6; and, they were told they would be gone for a month and a half. When they arrived, nobody knew what to do with them, because the 10th Mountain were overtasked with Operation Mountain Lion, so did not have time for training. They ended up meeting a group of soldiers from New Jersey who were stationed at the camp. Zuzzio made some good relationships with those guys, then got pulled back to Kabul after a few days.
A few months later, Zuzzio and his team were notified for Operation Triple Crown. Operation Triple Crown was the first mission where an Afghan army brigade was going to operate stand-alone and with little help from the United States. He and his team were sent to the Torgan Valley. This valley was a haven for the HIG, which is an Afghan militia group. His team paired up with ODA 2051 20th Special Forces Group and started to prep their unit. For two weeks, Zuzzio was reassigned from weapons company to 2nd company. He was assigned 15 soldiers to train, and he took his assignment very seriously.
Zuzzio’s unit occupied an old fortress, which was made the center of their operations. They rented the land from the locals and set up a perimeter. There were wheat and opium fields within the area the army rented. They allowed the locals to harvest their wheat, but they did not allow them to harvest the opium. They did a month and a half worth of missions, which included overnight ambushes, med caps, and baited ambushes. Zuzzio participated in a raid on a village, which they coordinated with the FBI and Afghan militias. Operation Triple Crown ended in June; Zuzzio went on leave shortly after.
Zuzzio returned in July and his brigade had moved east. His brigade had paired with the 10th Mountain division, 3rd brigade, 1st battalion, 2nd infantry. He did visits to all different locations; he was able to get familiar with where his battalion was spread out. After about a week, Zuzzio was sent to take over the advisory team for a company that was in the valley. He arrived at his new base on August 7, and they were attacked as soon as they arrived. After this event, Zuzzio really immersed himself in his duties, as he averaged three engagements per day.
Zuzzio was eventually pulled out of his current assignment due to a uniform violation. He was sent to an airfield and was tasked to answer radio and phone calls for 12 hours a day. Zuzzio did not really see his relocation as a punishment, because he now worked in an air-conditioned office, had access to Wi-Fi and had 3 meals per day. However, Zuzzio was shortly recalled back to his old position, as they needed someone who knew the terrain and surrounding areas.
When Zuzzio returned, he was tasked with supervising building constructions. He oversaw receiving approvals and funds for buildings. Zuzzio contributed to several new buildings during his time there. He and his team also completed several missions but, due to the winter approaching, they were less frequent. Zuzzio also helped prepare for the handoff to the Marines, because his team was shipping out in February. He and another soldier were tasked with handling check balances for the handover.
On Christmas Eve, he and his team were heading back to Camp Cobra during a snowstorm. They were driving over a bridge when a car from the other direction lost control, hit the railing of the bridge and fell into the water. They tried to help, were almost chest-deep in the water yet the car door would not open. Luckily, there was a crane in the traffic pile-up, whose driver helped pull the car out of the water. They strapped the guy up and rushed him to the base. He received medical attention and had to go through a series of surgeries.
Zuzzio does not regret his time in the service and was proud to serve his country. To anyone thinking of joining any branch of service, he reminds them that “War is ugly – war is dangerous – people get hurt – people die. War is not a photo op or a story. If you’re going to argue about the politics of a war, argue about it before you become a soldier.” Zuzzio believes that joining the military is no small thing, and it should be taken as seriously as possible.