Oak Bluffs remains home for busy Guard commander, General Carter
In an historic ceremony in the State House last October, Gov. Deval Patrick swore in Major General Joseph Carter as commander of the Massachusetts National Guard.
Mr. Carter, an Oak Bluffs resident, became the first African-American to assume command of the Massachusetts National Guard in its 371-year history.
Yesterday, Major General Carter spoke to the students of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School about the enduring messages of Martin Luther King Jr.
In a telephone interview Monday, Mr. Carter spoke to The Times about his work and a sense of service to the community that has molded his life.
As commander of the more than 8,000 men and women in the Massachusetts National Guard, Mr. Carter is principally responsible for the command and control of Army and Air National Guard units. The Guard has a unique dual mission, he said. Units must be trained and maintained for mobilization in support of the national command authority, headed by the Department of Defense and the president, and also be available to assist civil agencies and the Commonwealth during times of emergencies, disasters, or other events at the request of the governor.
More than 1,300 members of the Guard are currently on active duty engaged in the global war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Carter expects to visit those soldiers serving in Afghanistan in the next several months.
Major General Carter said the most rewarding part of his job is working with the fine men and women from all walks of life who serve in the Guard. "They are highly committed. They are exceptionally hard working at not only being the best soldiers and airmen in their particular specialties, but also they have families and civilian jobs. I did it for 34 years so I know how hard it is to juggle both."
Mr. Carter spoke with pride about a letter he recently received from a sergeant major serving in Iraq praising the Massachusetts units under his command. As someone who has spent his entire career in public service, he said he considers it a high honor to be in command of such a distinguished military organization.
Mr. Carter is quick to point out that the nation's oldest military unit dates back to 1636 in Massachusetts. "This is where the guard was founded," he said.
Asked what he would advise any student thinking about joining the military, he cited the considerable financial and educational benefits offered. "If you want to be a carpenter you can also become a carpenter in the engineers and you receive associated leadership skills as well that would help you in terms of developing a job future in your civilian job that is unequal to that of your peers," he said. "I would also tell them that there is great reward in being able to be engaged in projects, not necessarily war projects, but there are many community projects that the Guard is engaged in that have great benefits for the community."
In the foyer of Boston English High School stands a marble statue with a phrase inscribed on its base that reads, "Service to mankind is honor and achievement." The meaning of those words was not lost on Mr. Carter, a 1973 graduate of the oldest public high school in America, where he participated on the high school drill team. He joined the National Guard in 1974.
He cited several reasons for his decision to join the Guard, including his experience as part of the drill team, the opportunity to get a college education without burdening his parents with the cost, and a desire to serve his community, something that began in high school.
Mr. Carter rose through the ranks of the Guard and the Boston Police Department. He left the Boston police to serve as Oak Bluffs police chief for four and half years. He resigned in Jan. 2003 to become the new chief of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority police, a post he held until his recent appointment.
Mr. Carter accepts the fact that his personal and professional achievements have made him a role model at a time when good role models are lacking. "I see myself as a role model for all people but in particular for young black men and women across this state," he said.
Mr. Carter said the violence that has claimed so many young lives in Boston, particularly among the black community, is a result of many social and economic factors. He said city kids lack the values that were a part of his generation when he was growing up and instilled by parents, teachers, and neighbors. "We looked up to adults back then, but kids today don't have that environment," he said. "I like to say that I think the Vineyard still has some of that aura."
A long-time seasonal resident, it was that aura and the fact that Oak Bluffs was looking for a new police chief to provide strong direction that brought Mr. Carter and his family to the Vineyard.
Oak Bluffs is now the Carters' home. His wife, Rae, is a teacher in the Oak Bluffs School and his daughter Emily is a senior at the regional high school.
Mr. Carter is grateful for the opportunities the high school has provided. Noting the community's commitment to school funding, he said with a laugh, "I think it is the best public-private school in the Commonwealth."
When the opportunity came to take a job with the transit police, the family decided it was important to remain on the Vineyard, so Mr. Carter joined the ranks of Island commuters. When he is home he likes to eat breakfast at Linda Jean's, go for walks and enjoy the pace of life. "We just enjoy the serenity that the Island has to offer, particularly in the off season," he said.
Asked if he has given any thought to politics. "I've thought about it," said Major General Carter, "but right now that is far removed. I am going to try to be the best adjutant general they have and just take it one step at a time."