One night during basic training Michael Carpino relaxed in his barracks with fellow Army enlistees. The conversation turned to age. With the average Army recruit reportedly between 20-21, one 28-year-old proudly declared himself the senior of the group.
“I asked, ‘How old do you think I am?’” Carpino recalls. “They thought I was in my late 20s. I said, ‘I’m 43.’ None of them could believe it.”
The Stuart resident’s age-defying physical condition—which he maintained well before enlistment by eating healthfully, rising at 4 a.m. for running and cross-training, and walking the Palm City bridge on weekends—isn’t the only remarkable item on his resume.
The father of one is also a physician assistant—the owner and partner of Doctors’ Clinic in Stuart.
For the last three years the first lieutenant—set to make captain in April—has so far remained stateside while serving active duty with a medical support unit stationed out of Miami.
“I lose time with my son. For sometimes weeks at a time, I don’t see him. I lose time from my practice. Missing family and friends is very, very hard—but that’s the sacrifice I’ve chosen to make,” says Carpino.
Although Carpino admits that most of his peers thought he was crazy for enlisting, the seeds of military service were cultivated well before he discovered his love of the medical field. His father served in the Navy and as a Marine, his mom acted as a personal assistant to a general.
“Out of high school I was basically offered a spot at the Air Force Academy,” Carpino says. “At the last minute I turned it down. I’d had it in my heart to do military service, and I regretted that decision.”
So at the 2011 Stuart Air Show, Carpino stopped by the Army recruitment booth and initiated the reversal of that long-harbored regret. The drawn-out recruitment process that followed presented Carpino with several chances to change his mind and remain a civilian. The Army’s cut-off age is 42. In addition to an eight-month process of petitioning for an age wavier, Carpino underwent multiple comprehensive screenings.
“Background checks—they investigate your credit history, your behavior, even speeding tickets,” he says. “You think it’s gone, but it’s not gone. You have to go before a board and answer for it.”
The camaraderie that quickly flourished among fellow military personnel exceeded his expectations.
“I’ve made some amazing friends,” he says. “Ninety-nine percent of those I’m with are absolutely for this country. Their only motive is to serve. They love to serve, and it’s contagious.”
And yet, a desire to serve your country isn’t enough on its own if doing so entails neglecting your other responsibilities, Carpino says. That’s why the Army holds regular seminars emphasizing the value of “becoming a better person and having a good home life—that’s as important as being proficient with an M-16,” he says.
In reflecting on his personal and professional growth, Carpino sees his postponed decision to enlist less as a delay and more as perfect timing.
“As you mature, I think you really understand God and country,” he says. “You’re not fighting for the things in front of you. You’re fighting for the things behind you.”
Carpino knows he’s also setting an example for his 9-year-old son, who he recently visited at school while dressed in his combat uniform.
“He’s really proud of the fact that his dad’s a soldier,” Carpino says.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Michael Carpino is a general physician. He’s a physician assistant.