APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – With a little help from his friends, Tom Witczak joined the Army after graduating from high school in Manitowoc in 1962.

“Friends of mine, buddies in high school, we talked about it, and we felt we had an obligation. So, Jerry, Chris, Jim, and I decided to go into the United States Army under the buddy system,” Witczak recalled.

Witczak was about to leave his hometown of Manitowoc for the first time.

“You had your freedom for 18 years prior to that, and now all of a sudden you’re regimented. You’re told what to do, you’re told where to sleep, you’re told when to eat,” said Witczak.

Quite the wake-up call for the 18-year-old Witczak who started out stationed at Fort Leonard Wood.

He then went to Chicago and Germany working in intelligence for three years, before his time was up.

“I think every young person should experience the military, I mean it builds a foundation, I think, for life,” he said.

Witczak had no idea how many doors it would open for him. He’d go on to become a police officer in Appleton, an Associate Dean in Criminal Justice at Fox Valley Technical College, and work two Olympic games as a security guard.

“The G.I. Bill was very good to me. I was able to achieve an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree. Without the military, I probably wouldn’t have been able to accomplish that,” said Witczak.

But it’s not the opportunities that are important to Witczak, it’s the reason behind why so many like him decide to serve.

“It’s important because they gave up three, four years of their lives. I started out at $87 a month, and when you think about that, it wasn’t the money that was important, but the fact that I was gone for three years,” said Witczak. “I could’ve been doing something else, I could’ve been going to school, I could’ve been working, but I was willing to give up those three years to support my country,” he said.