FORT DETRICK, Md. — Growing up poor in southern Louisiana, Col. Clayton Carr learned at a young age the importance of responsibility, hard work and empowering others.
It was a necessity for Carr, who was raised largely by his grandparents after his mother struggled with substance abuse issues and his father wasn’t always around.
“My mom was just 15 when she had me … and my dad was 18,” Carr said. “Mom was always in and out of our lives. And I never really understood until I was older.”
For Carr, those “older” years came fast.
Living in an overcrowded four-bedroom home with over a dozen family members, including his two younger siblings, Carr said he was barely a teenager — maybe 13 or 14 years old — when he learned how much his brothers, sisters, and cousins would need and look up to him.
He credits the example set by his grandparents for putting him on the right path, teaching him skills that he used around the house, like cooking, cleaning, gardening and working with his hands.
“I had to grow up fast,” said Carr, who currently serves as assistant chief of staff for operations at U.S. Army Medical Logistics Command. “I always tried to be a good influence on my sisters and brothers.”
As the Army recognizes February as Black History Month, Carr reflected on his challenging upbringing and how that helped shape him into the man he is today — a caring father, a loving husband, a mentor to others and a Soldier with over 25 years of service to his nation.
Today, more than 181,000 Black Soldiers serve across the Army’s three components, including active duty, Army Reserve and National Guard. Their service helps the Army to leverage its greatest strength — diversity — as it brings together people of different backgrounds, culture and heritage.
“To me, Black History Month isn’t just a month — it’s the whole year,” said Carr, who likened the efforts and life of Martin Luther King Jr. to that of Jesus Christ. “He knew the danger of what he was doing — not only his life but his family’s lives — for something he believed in so much.
“That’s why I say that people are more important than anything,” he added. “That’s why I’ve always put myself out there to make it better for others. You can’t save everybody … but the people you can save, it’s worth it.”
Sports to service
As Carr grew up, he developed a passion for sports, specifically football, and earned a reputation for outworking his opponents. “I never lost a game before high school,” he said.
His talents and hard work on and off the field resulted in a scholarship to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where the Ragin’ Cajuns converted the high school linebacker and tight end to a strong safety.
Unfortunately, several injuries derailed his chances to play professionally, so he turned to another love — the military.
“I always loved the military because of my grandfather,” Carr said. “He served in the Army during World War II.”
Carr recalled stories from his grandfather, who talked about his service during World War II. “It wasn’t even a second thought,” Carr said of joining the Army. “I went and joined and went into the reserves” in 1989.
After going through basic training in 1990, the Gulf War broke out and Carr’s infantry unit went to train at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and then Fort Hood, Texas. But before they got a chance to deploy to support the war effort, the conflict was over and the call was made to stand down, Carr said.
He went back to school to finish his degree, joining his younger brother, Robert, an ROTC cadet then and an Army colonel today, at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he earned a bachelor’s in therapeutic recreation and leisure studies in 1995.
Rather than return to the Army Reserve, Carr decided to go into active-duty service. At 30 years of age, he received a waiver to earn commission into the Medical Service Corps.
“The rest is history from there,” he said.
Carr’s career has included a variety of medical logistics and supply roles for both operating and generating forces, primarily throughout the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command areas of responsibility.
He has held several positions at Fort Detrick since 2009, including as deputy chief of staff for logistics at the former Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.
Following a restructuring in 2019, the research, development and acquisition elements of MRMC realigned to U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command under U.S. Army Futures Command, while the logistics and sustainment operations went into the newly formed AMLC under U.S. Army Materiel Command.
In 2014, he worked as director of Force Integration and Operations for the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency, a direct reporting unit to AMLC, where he forecasted equipment needs for all Army active-duty, reserve and National Guard units in coordination with the Office of the Surgeon General and Army headquarters guidance.
After serving at the Armed Forces Radiobiological Research Institution at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland, Carr returned to Fort Detrick in 2020 to take on his current role at AMLC.
‘Best man I know’
To understand who Carr really is, look no further than his children. They described their father as kind, humble, funny and relatable, but also detail-oriented, understanding, reassuring and authentic in everything he does.
“That’s one of the things he taught me,” his son, Peerce, said. “No matter who the person is, try to be kind to them. You don’t know what they’re going through.”
His daughter, LaKeesha, who was 17 when Carr married her mother, Gwendolyn, over 22 years ago, said she remains close with her biological father, but Carr “is the best man that I know.”
“He is gentle, supportive, open, non-judgmental and he truly leads by example,” she said. “He talks the talk and walks the walk.”
LaKeesha, a senior program manager with the Washington, D.C. government, said her father has helped shape her ideals about what she would want in a future husband, instilling in her the importance of leadership and working for what she wants.
“Nothing worth having comes easy,” she said. “That’s just been like the moniker of my parents’ lives. They’ve gone through things and showed me the fortitude and resilience and determination to create the life that they’ve created.”
Along with LaKeesha and Peerce, Carr also helped raise another son, Brein, from a previous relationship.
Looking back on his childhood, Peerce, a junior at Drexel University in Philadelphia studying film and television production, remembers one specific interaction during his teen years with his father that still resonates with him today.
“He told me, ‘I just want you to be a better man than me,’” Peerce recalled. “… He never meant it in a way where he wanted me to live up to a certain expectation. He meant it like be yourself, be kind, be a source of happiness.
“He said it in a way that he was here for me, every day, and that’s exactly what he did,” his son added. “He’s always been patient with me … and I think that’s how he’s helped me grow as a man and as a person in general.”
Great role models
While his parents weren’t always present, Carr said he had no shortage of great role models growing up with diverse backgrounds that helped shape his worldview and values he lives by today.
Both sets of grandparents provided direction and focus to his life as a youngster, while teachers, coaches and other adult figures reinforced his values of family, faith and always working to be a better person for both yourself and those around you.
They also helped him develop a drive to give back. Carr said it’s important, especially for today’s youth, to know that “your past doesn’t need to be your future.”
Carr has lived that same mantra in raising his own children, as well as two young nephews for which he and his wife, also an Army veteran, are now legal guardians.
“I see myself in them,” Carr said of the boys, ages 11 and 6, who come from similar circumstances as he did growing up. “I feel that if my wife and I didn’t take them in, they wouldn’t have a chance to make it.”
Carr continues to take pride in his selfless service and giving back to the next generation.
“To me, all the things that everybody has done for me — because you never do it on your own — that’s a reflection of you have to do something that’s greater than yourself,” he said.
“If I would have had to give my life for my country, I would’ve done that, easily,” Carr added. “I know that’s bigger than me. Even for my family, if I had to give my life to protect them, I would do that. That’s what it’s all about.”