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Maj. Mike Carter just wants to look back and know he did his best

Name: Maj. Mike Carter

Age: 38

Service: Army

Hometown: Detroit

Job: Runs the Theater Missile Defense Desk at the Joint Operations Center, U.S. Central Command, Doha, Qatar


DOHA, Qatar—How did he get here?

How did Maj. Mike Carter end up sitting between two top-secret computers, tracking Iraq's Scud missiles, in a room guarded by barbed wire?

How did he go from a rough neighborhood on the west side of Detroit to the top-secret nerve center for military intelligence?

He's here because he saw so many people die.

Carter was 11 when he witnessed his first murder. "It was a rifle," he remembers. "Someone went in and shot up the house, across the street. I was next door. Three bodies came out of that house. It was over drugs."

Next time, he was 14, sitting on his porch. He watched two guys go into a house, and heard the shots. Carter was too scared to run; too scared to move. Later, the paramedics brought out two dead bodies.

The temptations were constant.

"Hey man, you wanna joint?"

Carter said no and kept walking—to school, to the store, to Calvary Baptist Church.

"Hey man, you want to make some money?"

Of course, he wanted some money. But he kept walking, kept saying no, just as his mother taught him.

Dessie Colbert, 58 and still living in Detroit, was a single mother, trying to raise three girls and a boy. "She's my hero," Carter says. "She had nothing but great things in mind for her children."

Carter joined the Junior ROTC program at Northern High School, drawn to the military's discipline and sense of community. "That put me on the right path," he says.

"I had two great instructors, both Vietnam veterans, and they could both relate to the kids. If you chose to listen to them and listen to what they said, it gave you a lot of inspiration and energy to move forward."

After graduating from Eastern Michigan University, he joined the Army and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1986.

Since then, he's risen through the ranks, serving in Germany, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. He did a stint at the Pentagon, working for Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Within two months, Carter will be promoted to lieutenant colonel.

For the last two and a half years, he has worked in the Joint Operation Center, a top-secret room filled with computers and experts from every branch of the military.

For 12 hours a day, Carter runs the Theater Missile Defense Desk. If there is a war and Iraq launches Scud missiles, Carter will play a major role in defeating the attack.

"I'm just glad to be part of history," Carter says. "This is an exciting time, making decisions, making sure the right choices are made for those troops, because their lives are on the line."

If Iraq launches Scud missiles, Carter is confident that American forces can handle it. "We learned lots of lessons from Desert Storm," he says. "We've had a great improvement since 1991."

In his spare time, Carter reads novels by John Grisham and books on military history.

He carries himself upright, head held high, shoulders back, but his military bearing is softened by an easygoing smile.

He has been deployed for more than a month, and he misses being in his back yard in Tampa, Fla., by his pool on a hot Saturday afternoon with a cold beer in his hand, barbecuing chicken for his wife, Angela, and their two children, Ashley, 13 and Brittany, 9.

"I miss the weekends," he says. "A quiet Saturday."

He's been married to Angela for 14 years, 15 next month. She's the one keeping the family together.

Angela works full time in the accounting department for a pharmaceutical company, sometimes putting in overtime, while getting the kids to school and soccer games.

"She's got a great attitude," Carter says. "We talk every day. Some days she has good days, some days she has bad days. She's a good definition of a great military wife."

This summer, as part of his service, Carter will be transferred to head the Military Science Department (ROTC) at Jackson State and at Mississippi Valley State University.

Angela is busy, getting ready to rent their house and find a new place to live. "I start June 15 or whenever this is done," Carter says. "I'll be a professor for a year and then command a battalion."

Last month, he was selected to take command of an Army battalion in the summer of 2004. "It's what Army officers strive for, when they come in, to lead soldiers. I have the opportunity to do that, and I'm looking forward to it."

Why does he do it? Why does he serve? Why does he do something that takes him away from his family?

"I just want to be a part of something purposeful, something worthwhile," he says. "I want to look back and say, `I did my best.' "


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): FACE CARTER portrait ILLUS; FACE CARTER face ILLUS; and FACE CARTER desk ILLUS