At just 16 years old, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Edward Garrett joined the U.S. Army, a decision that established a family legacy of service to the nation that continues nearly six decades later.
According to his son, Gen. Michael X. Garrett, US Army Forces Command commanding general, Edward was like most other dads when he was growing up, “like many of our fathers, if you listen to him, he walked up hill, 20 miles both ways, coming and going to work.”
When he joined the Army at 16, Edward was actually too young, but by the time the Army discovered this, he was old enough to remain in service with his mother’s approval.
“So [my grandmother] signed off on his paperwork,” Gen. Garrett said. “And that was the beginning of 35 years of service to his nation.”
Edward is the seventh of nine children, and by any measure, Gen. Garrett said, “this is a testament to my father, not anything against the rest of the family, but by any measure he was the most successful of any of his siblings. And I think a lot of that had to do with his drive, his sense of purpose, his sense of responsibility to his family.”
The Garrett family spent a majority of their time at Fort Benning, Ga. It was from there that Edward deployed twice to Vietnam and was also selected to attend the Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. Following the six-month course, the family moved to Baumholder, Germany.
“It was at Baumholder where I was old enough to really appreciate what my father did,” Gen. Garrett recalled.
So after high school, Gen. Garrett attended Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in 1984, he was the first Garrett to earn a college degree and was also commissioned into the Army as a second lieutenant.
Gen. Garrett remembers the day he graduated from college as being a big deal. He also recalled the significance of being commissioned into the Army, and then being pinned with his second lieutenant bars by his dad.
Following his commissioning, Gen. Garrett was assigned to the 24th Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga.
“At the time, the commander [of the 24th ID] was Maj. Gen. [H. Norman] Schwarzkopf, and his command sergeant major was none other than Edward E Garrett,” Gen. Garrett said. “So my dad was the division sergeant major.”
This assignment was something Gen. Garrett looks back on as an important foundational experience as he remembers the benefits of being somewhere where “your dad can help you.”
“Not only was I in the division, but I lived in the [bachelor officers’ quarters] that were about 200 meters from where my parents lived,” Gen. Garrett said. “So most nights, if I wasn’t in the field, I was at home with my mom and dad. And my mom would make me a wonderful dinner, I would bring over my laundry -- I love my mom and cherished that time.”
Gen. Garrett also recalled these nights as a time to talk to his dad. He remembered mentioning to him one time that his unit was in need of materiel before an inspector general inspection, and that they were having a hard time finding what they needed. The next day, Gen. Garrett said he was called by someone who had what he needed.
“It’s nice to be somewhere where you can learn and where your dad can help you – because my dad certainly did…but not just me, he helped a number of lieutenants back then” Gen. Garrett said.
While Gen. Garrett appreciated his time at Fort Stewart and the opportunity to serve with his father, when he had the chance to move on, he jumped on it. However, he found that even with the physical distance from his father, his legacy continued to follow him.
“I remember going to Lt. Gen. [Edwin] Smith’s retirement ceremony, and after the ceremony I got in line to shake his hand,” Gen. Garrett remembered. “He looked at me, he looked at my name, he looked at me again and said, ‘You know Mike, your father is the most professional noncommissioned officer I have ever seen.”
Garret said this was the first time he had met Smith, but the fact that he “immediately lined me up with my dad and his recollection of Ed Garrett was as the most proficient, professional NCO that he could remember… at the twilight of his career – that was pretty special.”
Now, nearly six decades after Edward Garrett first joined the Army, and more than 30 years after Gen. Garrett earned his commission, a new generation is beginning to make its mark in the Army.
First Lt. Michael Garrett, Gen. Garrett’s son, was commissioned into the Army in 2018, after four years at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Lt. Garrett, much like his father, decided to join the Army after watching his dad’s career.
“I think seeing my dad’s interactions, while in uniform, were great, but what really showed me that there was a cool aspect to being in the military was seeing him outside of work when he ran into Soldiers, or his co-workers or his boss, there was obviously a kinship and connection there,” Lt. Garrett said. “So the reason I wanted to serve was to be a part of a community like that and not only be a member, but contribute to it.”
Gen. Garrett said he was really surprised when his son decided to go to West Point, but enjoyed watching him develop over the four years he was there.
“It was a very proud moment when we commissioned him,” Gen. Garrett said.
The fact that his family has a legacy of service to the nation isn’t lost on Lt. Garrett. He said that legacy gives him a boost of energy.
“It means a lot to know that I am part of an organization that my family members have helped sustain and contribute to,” Lt. Garrett said. “It gives it even more worth in my mind knowing that my grandfather dedicated his life to this and my dad has done quite a bit of time in the military.”
And in a family with a combined length of service of nearly 100 years, Lt. Garrett has no shortage of advice as he moves through his career.
“One thing my dad and mother have always emphasized about the Army is that it is a people organization,” Lt. Garrett said. “So regardless if you think the job is cool, if the job is intriguing, it is important to realize and get a feel for the people who do that job.”
Lt. Garrett isn’t sure where his Army career will take him, and hasn’t decided yet whether he will be a career Soldier. For Gen. Garrett, as he looks back at 36 years of service---he can remember having to make those same decisions and is still surprised sometimes at where he is today.
“As we fast forward to today, never did I think a decade would go by in the Garrett career as a general officer,” Gen. Garrett said of his time in service. “And I certainly never thought I would be a four-star general in our Army – the ninth African American in the history of our Army – the FORSCOM commander. These are things I never really contemplated.”
He said the old Army slogan “be all you can be” has stuck with him, because “you really can be in the Army. The Army is full of opportunities. All you have to do is want it and all you have to do if work for it.”
Gen. Garrett said that even after 36 years in the Army, he still gets up every day fired up and ready to go.
“I have certainly enjoyed, maybe not every single day. There have been some great, great days, but there have been some horrible days too,” said Gen. Garrett. “But when the alarm clock goes off, I am fired up to go to work, to lead, to inspire, to learn and to set an example for all of our Soldiers out there.”