FORT DETRICK, Md. -- In just about any first meeting with a new Soldier or employee, Col. Clayton Carr often has a pen and notecards in his hands, listening quietly.
He jots down notes, actively listens and enjoys asking questions as they talk about their professional and personal lives. It’s the details that he loves to learn about his people -- where they’re from, their backgrounds and their families.
“Then, when I do meet their families, it kind of freaks them out when I know their names and how many kids they have,” Carr laughed. “I think people really appreciate those things.”
That personal touch is something Carr, who has most recently served as assistant chief of staff for operations at U.S. Army Medical Logistics Command, has bestowed on others in various leadership positions during his more than 25 years of service.
In advance of his upcoming retirement, Carr talked about his career and shared some wisdom for other Soldiers as they advance in their Army careers. His best advice, Carr recalled, came from a then-colonel who later rose to a major general.
What is it that I need to be a better officer and, ultimately, a commander?
“He said the best thing you can do is be a subject-matter expert in whatever it is that you are doing, specifically as a staff officer,” Carr said. “As a commander, everyone does the work for you. Just be the best staff officer in your area, empower the people around you and just be humble.”
Those ideals, along with keeping an open mind, staying adaptable and learning from others, have stuck with Carr as he rose through the ranks of the Medical Service Corps.
“Our generation is changing all the time,” he said. “If we close our minds to new ways of thinking, we get passed over if we’re stuck in the old.”
Master Sgt. Danielle Smith described Carr as a great leader and devoted family man “who genuinely cares for people and their families as if they were part of his own.”
“I had the privilege of traveling with him on several occasions,” Smith said, including a visit to his previous duty station, Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. “Everyone there -- military, civilians, contractors -- were so excited to see him again, and everyone had nothing but great things to say.”
Smith and Maj. Calvin King were part of the operations team under Carr’s leadership at AMLC for nearly three years. Both noted his “democratic leadership style” and ability to empower subordinates by taking a hands-off approach, allowing them to propose recommendations and ultimately grow through their work.
“He never made a decision without consulting his staff,” Smith said. “As his noncommissioned officer in charge, I was always given the opportunity to be a part of decision-making for our staff.”
King said Carr was “willing to let me make mistakes but would always stand behind me” as he fixed them.
“Making mistakes is part of the learning process, and he had big enough shoulders to cover for us as we learned which allowed me to grow,” King said.
Carr, a native of Patterson, Louisiana, first enlisted in the Army Reserve in 1989. After going through basic training, Carr’s infantry unit was set to deploy in support of the Gulf War, but the call to stand down came before they shipped out.
He then decided to return to school to finish his degree, earning his bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation and leisure studies from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1995.
Rather than return to the reserve, Carr decided to go into active-duty service at the age of 30 after receiving a waiver to earn commission. He’s held 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.
Carr has served in several leadership positions at Fort Detrick since 2009, culminating in his current role at AMLC, the Army’s life cycle management command for medical materiel.
AMLC has been thrust to the forefront of several major operations in recent years, including the whole-of-government’s COVID-19 response, Afghan withdrawal and presidential drawdown missions.
King, who is transitioning into one of Carr’s past roles as chief of logistics at Landstuhl, said Carr always led by example, allowed him space to work and never missed an opportunity to give credit when it was due.
“With Col. Carr’s retirement, the Army loses an advocate and someone who truly values recognizing the great work Soldiers, civilians and contractors contribute to our mission,” King said. “And he always came to work with a smile.”
Looking back on his career, Carr said being able to give back to and encourage younger enlisted Soldiers, officers and civilians was the most rewarding part.
“Just have a good heart and do the right thing,” he said. “That’s one thing I learned how to be because I didn’t have that when I was coming up, so I always try to do that for others now.”
The saying “with great power comes great responsibility” often comes to mind for Carr, who said he always felt it was his responsibility to give back to the workforce through respect, integrity and honest feedback.
“I’ve always tried to help build up my teams while holding them accountable to make sure they’re working hard here, but also at home,” he said. “Because if you’re not happy at home, you’re definitely not going to be happy at work.”
At the end of the day, Carr said he’s very blessed to have served in the Army for as long as he has. The military helped him get his degrees, but also led to lifelong friendships.
“I like to say the Army didn’t use me; I used the Army,” he said, noting that he will miss the camaraderie and the people the most in retirement. “It’s very rewarding and it makes you proud.”