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From Safety Captain to Navy Admiral

For one distinguished veteran, a lifetime of service began in childhood when he took part in the AAA School Safety Patrol.

John Bitoff, U.S. navy vet and former AAA School Safety Patrol captain, image
Photo credit
Photo: Melissa Barnes
Photo caption
John Bitoff inspects the troops at Fruitvale Elementary School in Oakland.

It takes gumption to lead thousands of military personnel on land and at sea. Where does that spirit come from? For Rear Admiral John Bitoff, U.S. Navy (Retired), the path to service started at age 12, when he joined the AAA School Safety Patrol.

Did the safety patrol truly lay the groundwork for your successful career? I really believe it was a start for me. I took it seriously. I was kind of a nerd.

What did you do on patrol? I would get to school early to be on my post. I watched for traffic and held my hands out to keep kids from crossing the street until it was safe. One day a very small girl, maybe 6 years of age, bolted past me. A truck was coming, so I ran out and got her. I felt a great sense of duty and achievement.

Highlights of your navy career? As a specialist in international security affairs, I helped implement the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in Europe. In 1989, I led the navy’s rescue and recovery efforts in the Bay Area following the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Advice for pedestrians? Don’t get mesmerized by the green light. You must look both ways. Do not step out in the street unless you are sure there are no vehicles coming.

Why should parents consider safety patrol for their kids? It gives children the opportunity to be accountable and assume responsibility for the safety of their peers at an early age. The most important thing of all is to learn that we have to care for one another.

This article was first published in Fall 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.