Carl Edward Vuono was born in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, on 18 October 1934. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1957, was commissioned a second lieutenant, and served with howitzer elements of the 3d Armored Cavalry until 1960. He was made a temporary first lieutenant in 1958, a rank made permanent in 1960. In 1960, he married Patricia A. Hall.
Vuono served in Korea with howitzer elements, 82d Artillery, 1st Cavalry Division until 1961. In 1961, he was made a temporary captain; three years later the rank was made permanent. From 1961 to 1962, he attended the Army Air Defense and Army ArtillerySchools. Afterwards, he served with the XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery, until 1963. Then he served as an exchange officer with the British 7th Royal Horse Artillery (Parachute), 16th Parachute Group, in England. In 1965, he was promoted to temporary major.
During the Vietnam War, Vuono was the executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 7th Artillery, 1st Infantry Division, until 1967. He then attended the Marine Corps Command and Staff College in 1967 and 1968. In 1968, he was promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel. From 1968 to 1970, Vuono was a personnel management officer, Field Artillery Branch, Officer Personnel Directorate. He returned to Vietnam to serve as the executive officer of the 1st Cavalry Division Artillery in 1970. He was promoted to permanent major, and commanded the 1st Battalion, 77th Artillery, 1st Cavalry Division until 1971.
Vuono returned to the U.S. and worked in the Office of the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army as a research analyst from 1971 to 1972. He graduated from the Army War College in 1973. For the next two years, Vuono was the chief of the Budget Division, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. In 1974, he was made a temporary colonel. Then Vuono commanded the 82d Airborne Division Artillery, and served as an executive to General Bernard W. Rogers, the Chief of Staff of the Army, from 1976 to 1977. In 1977, he became a temporary brigadier general, and was made a permanent lieutenant colonel the next year.
From 1977 to 1979, Vuono was the assistant division commander of the 1st Infantry Division and then served with the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, until 1981. In 1980, he was promoted to temporary major general, and to permanent colonel in 1981. The next year, Vuono was promoted to permanent major general. From 1981 to 1983, he commanded the 8th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, Europe; he then served as deputy commanding general of the Training and Doctrine Command. Vuono commanded the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center until 1985.
He was promoted to temporary lieutenant general in 1983. In 1986, he was promoted to permanent general. From 1986 to 1987, Vuono returned to the Training and Doctrine Command, this time as the commanding general. He served as Chief of Staff of the Army from 23 June 1987 to 21 July 1991. Vuono saw increasingly friendly relations with the Soviet Union, and an end to the Cold War, during his tenure as Chief of Staff. He also oversaw operations in Panama, and the Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. Vuono retired from active duty in 1991.