CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Thomas J. Arminio
Cold War Oral History Interview
US Navy, USS Carl Vinson
Date: January 28, 2019
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Angelo Napoli
Thomas Arminio was born in July 1955 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. While in high school at Seton Hall Preparatory School (then in South Orange, New Jersey), he took up the sport of wrestling. Arminio excelled at wrestling, but he struggled with academics, particularly the school’s STEM program. His main focus at Seton Hall was wrestling, as he was trying to get recruited to wrestle in college.
Arminio’s plan worked eventually. He was accepted by the Naval Academy in 1976, and the lessons he learned in wrestling helped him prepare for his time at the Naval Academy, where he earned a B.S. in International Security. Arminio did well academically during his time at the Naval Academy; he was elected class president all four years, which helped him develop leadership qualities.
From 1977 through 1979, Arminio was a member of the Naval Aviation Training Command, as he intended to become a naval aviator. He trained at different places including both Pensacola and Milton, Florida, as well as Corpus Christi, Texas. The training helped Arminio further develop his leadership skills, as well as build bonds with crew mates. He attained his wings, which was a big milestone in his career, as he achieved something he had always wanted. Arminio would never forget his time as a pilot.
From 1980 to1983, Arminio was a member of Patrol Squadron 47, a Fleet P-3C Orion squadron, at Naval Air Station Moffett Field in California. The Lockheed P-3C Orion is a four-engine turboprop anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft developed for the United States Navy. While with this unit, he held a succession of jobs including Flight Engineer, Ordinance Branch Officer, Nuclear Safety Officer, Pilot Naval Aviation Training and Operations Standardization (NATOPS) Officer, Naval Technical Proficiency Inspection Coordinator, Pilot-in-command, Mission Commander and Instructor Pilot. During Arminio’s time with Patrol Squadron 47, there were two deployments to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, operating out of Misawa, Japan, the Philippines and Diego Garcia, in addition to detachments to Adak, Alaska and Midway Island.
After his time with Squadron 47, Arminio had shore duty and was placed in Patrol Squadron 31 in 1983 until 1986. VP-31 was the P-3 Fleet replacement Squadron that was responsible for training personnel for all aircrew positions before their assignments to Fleet Squadrons. During his time with VP-31, he maintained safety of flight standards and examined pilots and flight engineers in twelve squadrons at Moffett Field, California and Barber’s Point, Hawaii. Arminio’s sea-duty was on the USS CARL VINSON from 1986-1989. During this time, he was not part of the Air Wing, and he served as the Ship’s Assistant Navigator, Officer on Deck, Conning Officer, Protocol Officer and Assistant Command Duty Officer. The USS CARL VINSON had two deployments to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean theaters of operations during this time.
From 1989 through 1991, Arminio was assigned to patrol Squadron 50. He faced adversity and challenges throughout his time with VP-50. Arminio was a Safety Officer, Pilot-in-Command, and Instructor Pilot. They had one deployment to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean theaters of operations. It was with Patrol Squadron 50 that Arminio experienced a heart-wrenching incident. While he was Maintenance Department Head at NAS Moffett Field, in the morning hours of March 21, 1991, the worst naval aircraft accident in decades took place. Two P-3 Orions collided off the coast of San Diego during a training mission. The crash resulted in the deaths of twenty-seven crew members. It was a hard time for Arminio; he vividly remembered having to go to the doorstep of a family who lost a loved one that day to convey the news.
Following his time with VP-50, Arminio became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Exercise Branch with the Joint Staff. He worked in the Pentagon from 1991 to 1993. Arminio had to develop exercises and training missions for the squadrons to complete. He made some surprise inspection visits, as they had to be prepared for any situation. Arminio was assigned to Patrol Squadron 10 at the Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine from 1993 to 1995, where he served as an Instructor Pilot, Executive Officer, Commanding Officer and Mission Commander. During his time with VP-10, he had a deployment to Sigonella, Sicily, and multiple detachments and exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and Saudi Arabia.
Towards the end of his career in 1996, Arminio went to the Naval War College as a student to get his MA in National Security and Strategic Studies. He then became a faculty member at the Army War College’s Military Strategy Department, where he taught Planning and Operations from 1996-2000. Before retiring, Arminio finished his career at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. on the Navy Staff in 2000-2001. He was a Navy Planner and the Chief of Staff of the Navy’s Anti-terrorism and Force Protection Task Force.
Arminio accomplished many goals during his service. He attained the rank of Captain (equivalent to Colonel in the army) in the U.S. Navy. Arminio was involved in the Cold War from 1977-1990, tracking Russian submarines. From 1994-1995, he was involved in Operation Desert Calm, which followed Operation Desert Storm. He also served in Operations Deny Flight and Sharp Guard in 1994-1995. Throughout his career, Arminio received many awards, including the Legion of Merit, Air Medal, Defense Meritorious Medal and others. His favorite and most memorable accomplishment was as the Commanding Officer for Patrol Squadron 10, where he was responsible for the combat readiness, performance and development, training and safety of over 350 sailors. Arminio ultimately exceeded all of his goals; he was recognized by the Chief of Naval Operations and received two consecutive Aviation Safety Awards while in that position.