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City doctor makes history in military

 
Published May 26, 2002|Updated Sept. 3, 2005

Dr. Carrie Nero is historic.

The St. Petersburg native has become the first black woman to become a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve and is also the first director of minority health at the Pinellas County Health Department.

In her position, she is chief nurse of the 3rd Medical Command, which is responsible for all medical care of U.S. military in battlefield operations. Her command coordinates the flow of all medical supplies, be it blood or bandages. The staff also monitors food service and water quality and coordinates patient evacuation, among other things.

Currently her command is responsible for about 340 men and women participating in the war against terrorism.

As a brigadier general, Nero spends three days every week with her military unit in Atlanta. Her promotion ceremony was May 5.

"She was the only woman up there," said Letia Moore, Nero's younger sister. "She sure stood out!"

Nero stands about 5 feet 4 inches tall, speaks softly and smiles often.

She joined the Reserves in 1975 when she was a surgical nurse at Bayfront Medical Center. She said some Army Reserve nurses were at the center recruiting and she realized that she wanted to do what they did.

She spent a lot of her time seeking education. Nero has one bachelor's degree, three master's degrees and a doctorate.

"Everyone else was looking for the party, and I was trying to find the university," Nero said of her time in the service.

"She's been going to school a long time," said her husband, Joe. "She achieves whatever she reaches to get."

Nero is humble about her accomplishments.

"You don't have to talk about it," she said. "It will speak for itself."

The brigadier general position is not easily attained. An election board reviews about 300 applications.

Nero said the board did a thorough investigation of the time she has been enlisted.

"Every year you get an evaluation," she said. "And they review each one of them."

After the investigation she had to be approved by Congress and the president.

"I'm grateful," she said. "I thank the Lord that I can serve him more in this position, I can better serve my country, my community and my people."

Nero cannot explain what drove her up the ranks.

"I don't have one answer," she said. "I wasn't driving to be a general, I was working because there is a need. I was just being all I can be to help," she said.

Nero spends Friday through Sunday in Atlanta on her Army duties. The other four days of the week Nero is at the Pinellas County Health Department focusing on service to her community and people.

At the health department she is director of minority health.

"I very often wonder, when does she sleep?" said Dr. Claude Dharamraj, assistant director of the Health Department and Nero's immediate supervisor.

Nero is a part of a task force called "Closing the Gap."

The task force is focused on eliminating the disparities in health care between minority groups and the rest of the population. Some studies show that minorities are at higher risk for certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

In June 2000, Gov. Jeb Bush visited the Pinellas County Health Department to sign into law the Patient Protection Act. As a result a $5-million appropriation was given to the state's Department of Health to implement a statewide "Closing the Gap" grant program.

This action led to the development of a new office of public health care _ minority health.

Nero was chosen to head the new office in Pinellas County. She is the director of the first Minority Health Office in the state.

In that capacity Nero and the task force write grant applications in order to receive funding for programs that will bring better health care to minorities in the community.

One program, Growing Older Well, addresses immunization, cancer and cardiovascular disease in older populations.

GrOW has a hotline people can call and find out where to get free or low-cost health screenings for blood pressure, prostate, colon and breast cancers.

It also provides information about preventive immunizations for influenza and pneumonia.

Nero and members of the Task Force also spend time in the community surveying residents to find out their health practices.

After work Nero spends time tutoring youths.

"I get as excited as they do when they get good grades," said Nero.

She said her work with the children is a big part of her life. And the wall and desk in her office are adorned with pictures of children and babies.

"It's an inspiration to me any day when I can work with a child," she said. "I just invest a little bit of me if they let me."

Nero and her husband founded the Florida Parent-Child Center, a place where children can go for tutoring after school.

Nero said her husband is her biggest supporter. "My backbone is my husband," she said.

"She is outstanding," he said.

They have two sons, Orgilon and Joe Jr.

"Serve as much as you can, whenever you can, as best you can," Nero said.