Born to a poor Hispanic family in New York City, Dr. Richard Carmona experienced homelessness, hunger and bleak prospects for a future education and economic opportunity. The child of parents who emigrated to the United States and struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse, Rich learned tough early lessons about economic disparities and social injustice – an experience he has never forgotten, and one that has given him an understanding of how culture, health, education and economic status shape our country.
Like his siblings and many of his friends, Rich dropped out of high school. With few skills and little education, he enlisted in the Army and went to Vietnam. Military service gave him discipline and a drive to succeed that he still carries today. In order to apply for Special Forces and become a combat medic, he earned his high school equivalency degree. Rich left the Army a combat-decorated veteran, with two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, a combat medical badge and numerous other decorations to mark his service.
When he returned home from Vietnam, Rich became the first member of his family to earn a college degree, and later received his medical degree. In 2002, Carmona was nominated by the president and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate to become the 17th Surgeon General of the United States.