Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Paul K. Carlton Jr. served as the 17th Surgeon General of the Air Force and was the functional leader of the United States Air Force Medical Service. He advised the Secretary of the Air Force and Air Force Chief of Staff, as well as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs on matters pertaining to the health of Air Force people. He had authority to commit resources worldwide for the Air Force Medical Service, made decisions affecting the delivery of medical services, and developed plans, programs and procedures to support peacetime and wartime medical service missions. He exercised direction, guidance and technical management of more than 42,400 people assigned to 78 fixed medical facilities worldwide.
Under his leadership, the Air Force Medical Service helped lead the transformation of military combat casualty care, pioneering advanced lifesaving surgical and critical care techniques and critical care in the air. These innovations, a life-saving system of systems collectively known as the Joint Trauma System, have resulted in a dramatic increase in survival rates for our service members wounded in combat. Over 10,000 Americans are alive today and reunited with their families because of the dedicated and sustaining work of American medical service men and women around the world, built upon the foundations of these innovations, applied systematically across the medical enterprise. Many of these concepts and techniques have now also been integrated into our civilian trauma care system to improve care for all Americans and have been adopted worldwide to improve clinical care for people around the world.
General Carlton was commissioned in the Air Force after being honored as a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1969. He is a fellow and former Air Force governor of the American College of Surgeons. He was named a consultant in general surgery to the Air Force surgeon general in 1981. General Carlton conceptualized and implemented the first Air Force rapid-response surgical team in Europe — the flying ambulance surgical trauma team. During his military career he remained an active surgeon having performed more than 4,000 operations as principal surgeon and 6,000 as first assistant.
An active flier, General Carlton holds Federal Aviation Administration commercial, instrument, multi-engine, glider and instructor ratings. During Operation Desert Storm, he commanded the 1702nd Air Refueling Wing Contingency Hospital, completing 32 combat support missions and 140 combat flying hours in the C-21, C-130, KC-10 and KC-135.
After retiring from the Air Force, General Carlton was named Director of the Homeland Security Initiative for the Texas A&M Health Science Center to address homeland security issues related to human health. He has continued to collaboratively research solutions to our nation’s greatest security threats, publishing and speaking on a broad range of security topics. In 2018, he was named a member of the first group of Air University Surgeon General’s Visiting Scholars.
Since 2020, he has lead a cross-functional, multidisciplinary team of subject matter experts to help address challenges on the current war on COVID. These scholars have identified promising solutions to address the COVID global pandemic, and advocated aggressive implementation plans to harden national infrastructure sectors while saving lives. This approach, using the same methodology he contributed during his military career, involves decisive action now based upon best available data, followed by aggressive analysis and rapid feedback loops. He remains committed to helping our nation and the world address the security threats of a complex and rapidly changing new world.