It wasn’t the most auspicious of upbringings for this role model of personal growth and responsibility. Born and raised in New York City’s famous "barrio" of Spanish Harlem, the now-Surgeon General dropped out of school, as his siblings and friends.
But one day an older neighbor, Sal, returned to the barrio from the service, and he inspired the young Carmona, who greeted him with awe. "He was in uniform, having been in the service. We struck up a conversation. He encouraged me to go back to school and get an education," remembers Admiral Carmona.
At the time, he was just 17, but had been out of school for years and was living, like most of the other kids he knew, "day-to-day surviving." Sal sent him to a friend who was an Army recruiter.
Two years later, young Rich received his first wound, saw his first buddy die in combat, and delivered his first babies, twins. "In one year, I matured a decade," says Admiral Carmona of his experience in Vietnam, where he entered the health care field as a combat medic in the Green Berets. He was awarded two Purple Hearts.
"Enlisting in the Army was the best thing I ever did. It gave me my first real job. It was the first time I was held accountable and responsible," says the Surgeon General.
But this one-time dropout found redemption in education, first by earning his G.E.D. Admiral Carmona then not only picked up where he left off, but continued to excel academically, receiving advanced degrees, including "top graduate" status from the University of California Medical School. In a recent University of Arizona Alumnus magazine interview, Admiral Carmona recalled how his mother was a strong force that "helped me understand the importance of education, and the opportunities that I had before me if I worked hard to get that education." Today, as Surgeon General, while working to address the nation’s most critical health problems, he’s targeted childhood obesity as Public Enemy Number 1, along with asthma and substance abuse. Setting kids on the right path, much like Sal’s example played back in the streets of Spanish Harlem, drives Carmona to make it a major goal in his position as Surgeon General. For him, it’s a valuable form of prevention from illnesses that strike millions of American’s later in life. He’s called it "the terror within."
"We know more than ever about the combination of genetic, social, metabolic and environmental factors that play a role in children’s weight," Surgeon General Richard Carmona testified at a recent House hearing. "But the fundamental reason that our children are overweight is this - too many children are eating too much and moving too little."
This form of "prevention," setting good habits at young ages, has underscored Admiral Carmona’s passion for helping kids. Earlier this month, he appeared jointly with High-School basketball (and soon to be NBA pro) phenomenon Lebron James in launching a youth fitness program in Akron, Ohio. He’s also announced intent to visit a school in all 50 states to talk with students about the importance of making healthy choices.
"Students face a lot of tough choices," Admiral Carmona said. "That’s why I’m committed to talking to students across the country about making smart and healthy life decisions. Everyone makes mistakes, but the key is to minimize wrong choices, focus on positive behavior, and move forward in life with goals and direction." And, his commitment is to "be true to my goals and my values. I will do what I’ve always done, which is to reach out to the underserved."
The Surgeon General holds the rank of Vice Admiral (VADM) in the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Commissioned Corps. The PHS Commissioned Corps is a uniformed service of the same nature as the Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and NOAA Corps. Former and current Corps members are eligible for Veterans Advantage membership.
Image Credit: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/richard-h-carmona-md