Vice Admiral Richard H.
Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S.,
U.S. Surgeon General
The Highest Ranking Tactical Medic in the
Vice Admiral Richard H. Carmona was sworn in as
the 17th Surgeon General of the U.S. Public
Health Service on Aug. 5, 2002. His primary
mission: To Reduce Rampant Cultural and Racial
Disparities in Health Care for Americans.
His is an old-fashioned Horatio Alger
success, an unusual "rags-to-riches" story --
riches counted in educational achievement,
multi-dimensional career attainment, a
transcendent public service career, and a
valorous record as both an Army medic and a
Dr. Carmona came from humble beginnings -- an
impoverished and disadvantaged childhood. A
native of New York City, he grew up in Spanish
Harlem, dropped out of high school at 17, and
enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967. During his
enlistment, he earned a GED, joined the Army's
Special Forces, ultimately became a
combat-decorated Vietnam veteran, and launched
his career in medicine.
Upon leaving active duty, this former high
school dropout adopted "higher education" as his
ladder to success, and he never looked back.
Carmona was the first member of his family ever
to graduate from college. First earning an
Associate of Arts degree at Bronx Community
College, Dr. Carmona went on to graduate from
the University of California, San Francisco,
with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1977, and a
medical degree in 1979 -- finishing #1 in his
class. In 1998, he earned a Masters of Public
Health from the University of Arizona.
Carmona's career paints a portrait of a
Renaissance man of the medical profession:
paramedic, registered nurse, physician, medical
professor, hospital CEO. He is an example in the
fields of trauma, burns and critical care.
Prior to becoming Surgeon General, Dr.
Carmona was the Chairman of the State of Arizona
Southern Regional Emergency Medical System, a
professor of surgery, public health and family
and community medicine at the University of
Arizona, and the Pima County Sheriff's
Department surgeon and deputy sheriff. Even more
impressive, Dr. Carmona has also served as a
medical director of police and fire departments,
and is a fully qualified peace officer with
expertise in special ops and emergency
preparedness, including weapons of mass
In fact, according to the American Medical
Association, Dr. Carmona was "committed to
disaster preparedness long before September 11,"
voicing warnings about the threat of
bioterrorism since the mid-1990's. "The emphasis
should be on prevention and wellness and healthy
living," said Carmona. "But now we have to
integrate how do we deal with these new threats
of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and
have the appropriate health infrastructure in
place to keep our communities safe."
Dr. Carmona is no stranger to violence: as a
Green Beret in the Army, he was awarded two
Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. As a sheriff's
SWAT team member, he was named one of the
nation's "10 Top Cops." In 1999, he came upon a
traffic accident that quickly deteriorated into
a hostage situation. Carmona shot and killed an
armed man who was assaulting a woman after
having just stabbed his own father to death, and
was on his way to kill an old girlfriend.
This was not the only time Dr. Carmona
demonstrated unconditional courage in perilous
circumstances. He made headlines long before
President Bush nominated him for Surgeon
General. In 1992, Carmona rappelled out of a
helicopter to execute a daring cliffside rescue
of the sole survivor of a Medivac helicopter
crash. His bravery inspired a made-for-TV movie.
One final note: In a roundabout way, Dr.
Carmona credits the Army with turning his life
around. Growing up in abject poverty, Carmona
and all three of his siblings dropped out of
high school. Friend after friend became enmeshed
in a life of crime. Carmona was afraid he too
might end up in prison, but he once stated, "I
was fortunate. I went away to Vietnam."
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