By Jacqueline M. HamesFebruary 27, 2009
Having one family member in the Army can be stressful-constantly worrying about the Soldier's safety, about moving to a new place and other day-to-day occurrences unique to military life. But what would it be like to have all your sons in the Army'
For some, that concept would be downright terrifying. For the Garner family it's perfectly natural.
Lieutenant Col. Ronald Garner has been in the Army for 24 years. All five of his children-four boys and one girl-have been there to watch his Army career, from battle dress uniforms to temporary duty in Latin America.
Garner currently works as a foreign-area officer to Latin America for the Executive Office of the President, Office of National Drug Control Policy. He is fluent in Spanish, having lived and worked in Latin America for many years. His children are all fluent in either Spanish or Portuguese, he says, and handled the challenges of Army life very well.
Now, the boys have all followed in their father's footsteps and joined the Army.
"It's unusual. It's exciting," Garner said about having all of his sons in the Army. "You don't anticipate that, you don't push them in that direction. But now that it's happened, it's exciting. We're very proud of what they have chosen to do."
The four Garner sons span the ranks and components of the Army. The oldest, Philip, is a captain currently assigned to the Army Logistics Management College at Fort Lee, Va., for the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course. Ephraim, the second oldest, is a first lieutenant at Fort Hood with 3rd Brigade, 1st Calvary Division. Sgt. Alex Garner is stationed in Germany, having returned from a deployment in Iraq in October with A Company, 1-2 Stryker Cavalry Regiment. Pvt. Jacob Garner, is the youngest of the Garner children, is enrolled in advanced individual training at Fort Gordon, Ga., as part of the 19th Special Forces Group, Utah National Guard.
All the Garner sons are currently on active duty, said Garner, though he and his wife Betsy are not overly worried about having all of them deployed at the same time.
"You think about it, but you don't worry about it all the time," Garner said. "It's part of our life."
The relationship between the members of the Garner family is much stronger because of the common link of being in or connected to the Army.
"Now that our sons have made the decision to be in the Army, it has brought us closer still because we share that bond," Betsy Garner said. "In other ways, it is hard for me as their mother because they seem to be sent places far from our home. I miss them, their wives and our grandchildren."
In fact, the Garners have already experienced a dual deployment: Philip and Alex were stationed on the same outpost in Baghdad last year. For Philip, that was one of the best moments in his Army career. Alex's Stryker company was attached to Philip's battalion for about seven months, Philip said. Though they never went on missions together, they found comfort in each other's presence.
"I am very grateful for my opportunity to serve our country with him," Philip said.
Philip, being the eldest, believes he set the precedent for following in their father's footsteps. He decided to join the Army because of his patriotic upbringing, along with the example of his father, and received a commission from the Army Reserve Officer's Training Corps program at Brigham Young University.
"I realized that there wasn't really anything else that I would rather do than serve my country in the Army," Philip said.
He acknowledges that Army life is hard at times, both on the Soldier and the Family. Previously assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Philip has been through two deployments to Iraq.
"The hardest thing that I have ever done was to leave my wife and 10-day-old daughter at the end of my R&R leave during my last deployment," Philip explained. When he returned from his deployment in March 2008, his daughter Isabella was 11 months old. He has missed his wife Paula's last four birthdays as well.
"In the end, we both feel that the sacrifices are worth it and that it is my duty to serve," he added. "That all sounds pretty cheesy, but that's really how we feel."
Though being in the Army and performing duties as a Soldier is a serious job, occasionally it has its silly moments. Alex Garner is the perfect example of a lighter side of Army life. Described as a "fun loving" guy by his dad, Sgt. Garner is famed throughout his family for a YouTube video: "Operation Iraqi Freestyle."
The video was born out of boredom sometimes experienced while on deployment to Iraq, Alex explained. He heard the song "Scatman" from the film "Nothing to Lose" and began dancing-with his boots on fire (www.youtube.com/watch'v=ulbjaEprP5E).
"It became imperative to act out the scene" after hearing the song, Alex said. Using a little bit of lighter fluid, a friend lit the toes of Alex's combat boots on fire and he danced around until the flames went out. In the video Alex's friends and fellow Soldiers can be heard laughing, and Alex himself dances with the goofiest of grins. But don't let this strange instance fool you into thinking Alex is not serious about his job.
"When people are putting their lives on the line for my family the only right thing to do is join them and pull my weight," he said.
His wife Sara is in complete agreement. Alex claims that she has a deeper sense of patriotism than he does.
"She feels freakishly strong about service to the country," he added.
Alex jokes that having all of his brothers and father in the Army has taken them farther apart, but believes that they are all doing their duty.
"It really does evoke a sense of pride to know my whole family has done our job," he said.
Ephraim admits, like his siblings, that an Army lifestyle doesn't allow the family to get together as often as everyone would like. However, having his brothers in the service with him gives them some common ground. He asked both Alex and Philip about what it's like being deployed in preparation for his own tour, which began in December.
"It will be my first deployment and I am excited to see what will happen during the next year," Ephraim said. As a platoon leader he is most concerned with carrying out successful missions and getting the Soldiers under his command home safely.
Leaving his two young sons and wife, Heather, will be difficult, Ephraim says, especially for the older boy, who at 2 years old may not understand why Dad has to leave. But he is confident Heather and the boys will be able to turn to his mom and sisters-in-law for advice and comfort.
"My wife knows her sisters-in-law will understand her frustrations and the stress that comes with being an Army wife," Ephraim said.
Lieutenant Col. Garner said Betsy is close with her daughters-in-law. The women talk to each other frequently about what it's like to be an Army spouse. Betsy has plenty of advice on the subject, discussing things to watch out for and things to do to help the children transition easily when the family moves. Garner cites Betsy as an enthusiastic example for younger Soldiers' wives.
"If my wife is patriotic, my mother is a zealot," Alex said about his mom's passion for Army life. "She loves it."
Mom has "always been an example of service and dedication that I can hope to follow," Ephraim agreed.
Betsy would talk about the whole family being in the Army when the children were growing up, not just their dad. As her husband was getting ready to join the Army, Betsy would talk about where they would go and what the family would do in the Army.
"One day Ephraim, who was four years old at the time, said to me 'Mom, when we're in the Army will we live in tents''" Betsy said.
"We always talked about us being in the Army, not Dad. I had not stopped to think what a 4-year-old might think about that," she said.
The Guardsman in the family, Jacob, is also the youngest Garner child. He is "just out of high school," Lt. Col. Garner says, with a 10-year age difference between him and Philip. Because of his training at AIT, Jacob was unavailable for comment.
According to his dad, Jacob joined the Guard because of the example his older brothers set. He saw them joining the Army and decided that was what he wanted to do as well.
"He cited them as the reason and example behind his going," Garner said.
"I am so proud of the decisions our children have made," Betsy added. For her, the ability of her sons to serve the country is an honor and a privilege that ultimately brings the family closer together.
"People who are unfamiliar with such a lifestyle often asked me how I dealt with the constant change and instability," Hayley Roggia, the only Garner daughter, said. "To me, the question is faulty; I didn't feel any kind of instability in my childhood."
Hayley emphasized that leaving school friends behind when the family moved was not an issue, because she always had her brothers.
"Home was wherever my family was," she said.
"The moves brought them together," Garner said, explaining that his children appear to have a closer relationship than normal siblings. "They just had fun together." The older boys were always on a sports team together, Garner said, and Hayley always had an older brother looking out for her in school.
"I am incredibly grateful for the pride and patriotism that was instilled in all of us as children," Hayley said. "I think I was destined to spend my own adult life with someone who has an understanding of this pride."
Hayley married a childhood friend she met at Fort Benning, a young man from an Army family. Adam Roggia, her husband, is planning to attend the Army's Doctor of Physical Therapy program starting in 2009, and become an officer and physical therapist.
Hayley and her husband have one daughter, Ellie, whom they tell stories of her "incredible" Army family, even though she is not yet old enough to understand.
"I was always so proud of my cool, tough Army Dad," Hayley said, "and I feel the same way about four Army brothers now."
Growing up in a military family can be difficult, with parents deployed or out of town on a regular basis. Moving to different towns every few years can also cause a family a considerable amount of stress. But for the Garners, all these difficulties only enhance the bonds they share.
"I wouldn't trade it for any other life," Betsy said.
Check out what the Garner clan is up to now! Visit the family blog at http://garnerstrong.blogspot.com.