When Dr. Eugene Paluso first heard his son was chosen to be part of the elite Navy SEAL unit, the Washington Hospital otolaryngologist of 40 years was rendered speechless.
“I didn’t even know what a SEAL was,” Paluso admitted, but a quick search of the job description revealed what he already knew about his son. Navy SEALS are a special operations force that conduct dangerous, small-unit missions, sometimes targeting terrorists. “I did the research, and if you are determined – and he’s a pretty determined guy – you’ll do it and he did it.”
So when his son called years later to say he would return to where his military career began to assume the role of commandant at The Citadel, Paluso knew the same rule of determination applied.
Navy Capt. Eugene F. Paluso will wrap up approximately 25 years of service, including achieving the rank of Navy SEAL officer, to become the commandant of the Corps of Cadets, at one of the largest uniformed student bodies in the United States.
The Washington native attended Immaculate Conception High School in Washington for his freshman and sophomore year. He completed his secondary education at Admiral Farragut Academy in Toms River, N.J., graduating in 1985.
Paluso accepted the position as commandant in late April and will take on his role at The Citadel as overseer of 2,300 cadets in late summer. He officially retires from active duty Nov. 1.
The Citadel, in Charleston, is one of six senior military colleges in the United States and one of just two colleges that require all undergraduates to be cadets and participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
Upon assuming the position, Paluso reports directly to the president of The Citadel, Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa. He will oversee the Corps of Cadets in matters concerning administration, training, housing and discipline as well as aspects relating to ROTC. He also supervises various campus directors in charge of the cadets’ health and lifestyle.
Paluso is eager to rejoin his alma mater.
“My initial goal will be to ensure that I quickly become an effective member of The Citadel’s staff in ensuring we are developing the young men and women who attend The Citadel into principled leaders for our nation,” he said.
As a student at The Citadel, Paluso pursued a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
The 1989 alumni entered the U.S. Navy after graduation and began his career as ensign, an entry-level commissioned officer’s rank.
He then underwent SEAL training, a grueling six-week program in Coronado, Calif. involving intensive aquatic and land training and physical endurance to build mental stamina.
He went to airborne school, which focuses on parachute training, before joining SEAL Team 3, headquartered in Colorado, Calif. and deploying in the Middle East. During his career, he traveled to various countries in combat and noncombat roles, rising through the officer ranks. His many awards include the Bronze Star and Defense Superior Service Medal.
Currently, Paluso directs 700 SEALS and fleet personnel, as the commander of Naval Special Warfare Group Three in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
When he discovered the South Carolina state job opening for commandant at The Citadel, Paluso quickly applied. Paluso is honored to succeed Col. Leo Mercado.
“Col. Leo Mercado has done an outstanding job as the commandant for the past five years,” Paluso said.
Paluso plans no immediate changes upon assuming the position.
“(Mercado) has set me up for success,” Paluso said. “And he and his staff are ensuring that I am being brought up to speed on everything that I will need to be successful and make informed decisions.”
While Paluso’s father was proud to watch his son climb in military rank, he is grateful for his return home.
“He is determined,” the elder Paluso said. “He’s done a lot and seen a lot. Thank God he’s above ground.”