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Garno Family of Eleven - Positive Chaotic Mess Of Goodness
by U.S. Army Capt. Joe Legros, Michigan National Guard
August 20, 2019

Imagine growing up in a family of nine siblings. Passing the butter during dinner takes a few minutes. Shower time is divided into shifts; you might get hot water, if you are lucky. And what about family outings? Not many vehicles can handle a family this numerous.

“Actually, growing up with such a large family is a very hectic, but amazing experience,” shares Private 1st Class Matthew Garno II, assigned to the Medical Detachment Command Center in Detroit. “All the siblings, though they have their moments, are fairly influential on each other in a very good way. We all teach each other things and play together and are constantly surrounded by friends or competitors.”

“It makes for a wonderfully positive chaotic mess of goodness.”

However, this ‘chaotic mess of goodness’ does not just happen on its own. It becomes ‘wonderfully positive’ through the dedication, love and patience of an incredible support network. Every family needs this, with everyone in the family contributing their part.

First and foremost within the Garno family are the parents: father, Lt. Col. Matthew Garno and mother, Julia. Together they are raising six girls and three boys.

December 20, 2018 - Lt. Col. Matthew Garno, Operations Branch Chief within the G37 Medical Readiness Division in Virginia, Office of the Surgeon General, stands proudly at Basic Combat Training graduation with his son, Private 1st Class Matthew Garno II of the Michigan National Guard. From left to right stands Joy Garno (sister), Sgt. Grace Garno (sister), Private 1st Class Matthew Garno II, Lt. Col. Matthew Garno and cousin, Private Athan Garno. (Michigan National Guard photo by U.S. Army Capt. Joe Legros)
December 20, 2018 - Lt. Col. Matthew Garno, Operations Branch Chief within the G37 Medical Readiness Division in Virginia, Office of the Surgeon General, stands proudly at Basic Combat Training graduation with his son, Private 1st Class Matthew Garno II of the Michigan National Guard. From left to right stands Joy Garno (sister), Sgt. Grace Garno (sister), Private 1st Class Matthew Garno II, Lt. Col. Matthew Garno and cousin, Private Athan Garno. (Michigan National Guard photo by U.S. Army Capt. Joe Legros)

Family members on both sides served in World War II and Julia’s father fought in the Army during Vietnam. Lt. Col. Garno’s brother served in Iraq with the Michigan National Guard, then in the Navy and is currently in the Indiana Army National Guard; his dad also served in the Navy during the Korean war.

However, Lt. Col. Garno didn’t seriously think about serving until he met a Michigan National Guard recruiter at the Lenawee County Fair during the summer of 1993. By February 1994, he enlisted as a combat medic, then went through ROTC at Michigan State University. He then went on to direct Commission in 2000 as a Medical Service Corp Officer.

Lt. Col. Garno currently works in the Office of the Surgeon General as Operations Branch Chief within the G37 Medical Readiness Division in Falls Church, Virginia. After rising through the ranks of the Michigan National Guard, he still maintains a Michigan cell phone number and plans to return to his home state July 2020.

He credits Col. Lavetta Bennett, Michigan National Guard’s Director of Personnel, as having the most profound impact on his military career. “Col. Bennett believed in me. She encouraged me to move from the enlisted side and commission as an officer in the Medical Service Corps.”

“He was reading a book when I approached him with the topic of commissioning,” says Col. Bennett. “At first, he thought I was joking. Then his face lit up. I will never forget the huge smile on his face.”

Lt. Col. Garno’s first assignment was with the 1171st Medical Company, “Charlie Med,” First Support Battalion, serving as a platoon leader for three years. Later, he deployed on a homeland security assignment with the 126th Armor in 2003, pulling security for Pacific Command at Selfridge Air National Guard Base and Tank-Automotive & Armaments Command. He graduated from the Inter-service Physician Assistant Program from Fort Sam Houston in 2007.

Throughout his Michigan National Guard career, Garno includes his family in as many activities as possible, mostly through family readiness groups. “My wife and I got involved in FRG leadership early on,” says Garno. “It was critical in maintaining family connections.”

Twenty-six years into Garno’s military service, his son, Matthew, recalls that his dad would call the kids to attention, issue their assignments for the day and dismiss them to carry out their duties. “When the ages of the family were seven and down, I distinctly remember standing at attention in the living room before my father and he would put us ‘at ease,’” shares Garno II.

“He would give us the game plan for the night which usually consisted of a 'police-call' of the entire house and a 'gross-decon' of the kitchen and latrine, after which he would give the command ‘fall out’ and we would run off to our duties.”

Grace, the oldest of the Garno siblings, shares a similar memory. “Once when my brother was about four, we were at a family reunion and my father asked him to do something. He responded as we were taught with ‘Yes sir, moving, drawing fire.’”

Grace continues, “One of our older cousins asked him what ‘drawing fire’ meant. Without missing a beat, my brother confidently replied, ‘It’s like you have some crayons, red, orange and yellow, and you’re drawing a big fire.’” With their father explaining the finer details, the Garno boys and girls spent the rest of the afternoon playing Army.

While this may sound a little strange or strict to certain families, Garno II says it was all a playful game. Not to mention, it was a great way for mom and dad to keep the house clean during ‘police calls.’ “It was almost a sport to see who could stand the straightest and be the quietest,” he says.

Garno II is the latest in a long history of family members who benefitted from this early lesson in military structure. Those memories came in handy as he recently graduated from the combat medic AIT course, earning distinction on the Dean’s List. Yes, this is the same course his father took in 1994, 25 years earlier.

His next step will be another that many Garnos before him have taken, enrollment at Michigan State University and participation in the ROTC program.

“My family comes from a long line of Spartans and that was the biggest influence that had to do with attending Michigan State University. Also, I enrolled in the well-established ROTC program which provides immense opportunity for pursuing a career as an officer,” says Garno II.

Lt. Col. Garno and his father were both Spartans, as is Matthew’s sister, Grace. In fact, Sgt. Grace Garno, a fellow combat medic in the Michigan National Guard, is a senior this year and cadet in MSU’s ROTC program as well. Two years earlier, she also made the Dean's List at AIT.

While Grace looks forward to reuniting with her younger brother at school, she is busy preparing the next generation for military service. “Our three-year-old loves to do PT and his form for push-ups is already within regulation!” she shares. The younger ones often ask when they get to sign up.

As for raising this family of nine, Lt. Col. Garno claims he could never have done it alone. Along with FRG activities, he makes sure his family gets involved in Michigan military events within the state and beyond.

“By far my favorite memory was when my dad was in Charlie Med and they allowed family members to observe a mass casualty evacuation training event,” shares Grace. “There were lots of smoke grenades and we got to see simulated ‘patients’ being evacuated on stretchers in helicopters.”

“His balance with work and family is impressive,” shares Col. Bennett. “Compared to my family of four, Lt. Col. Garno has a large family. It amazes me that he can keep up with the demand of family commitments while rising through the ranks of military life. His wife must be a saint!”

When asked about his other half, Lt. Col. Garno says, “You mean my other nine-tenths?! My wife is the most patient and caring person I know.”

To solidify this point, he shares a story from early in his military career when he considered leaving the National Guard. “I was teaching on the civilian side at the time and was thinking about getting out,” states Garno. “But my wife, Julia, told me ‘I think you need to stay in.’”

When he asked her why, Julia’s response stopped him in his tracks. ‘“You’re a better dad, husband and friend because of your military service,’ she said. With that kind of answer, obviously I stayed in,” shares Garno. "When called to service, never once has she waivered in support of me, our local community, the Michigan Army National Guard or our Nation."

Grace sums it up in a similar way. “I cannot even begin to put into words how amazing of a woman my mother is.”

Along with home-schooling all nine children, Grace shares, “My mom does whatever she can to keep things running well at home. Instead of expecting my father to fix things that break down, she does her best to take care of things herself. Thank you, YouTube!”

Flexibility and adaptability play a large part in any successful navigation through life. The same goes for military service, civilian life or simply raising a family in general. Adding nine kids to the mix puts those skills to the ultimate test. Critical flaws are usually revealed under this type of stress.

With the Garno family, they keep passing the test.

"I've never pushed my kids to serve in the military," shares Lt. Col. Garno. "Instead, I encourage them to never stay on the sidelines. Jump in and do something to help."

Along with military service, the Garno family also assists in times of civilian crisis. For example, during the Boston Marathon bombing and the water issues in Flint, Michigan, Garno family members volunteered, lending a helping hand.

Yes, coordinating travel and schedules can be difficult, but the Garnos are not the exception to the rule. Instead, they demonstrate the truth behind the proverb that it takes a village to raise a family. Everybody plays a part, including you.

“To me they are not just a big crazy family,” says Grace. “They are some of my best friends and biggest inspirations. I am honored to call myself their big sister.”

Unlike the Garnos, you might not have eight other siblings on speed dial. But don’t forget your friends, co-workers or neighbors. Large family or not, this extended network of people cares about you.

If you serve, you have a large pool of extended family members to choose from: your brothers and sisters-in-arms. These are your people, your crew, your support network. If you do not serve, think about those who might represent your own village. But why?

“When all else fails, find your family,” shares Lt. Col. Garno. Take it from the Garno family; together you can foster something great.

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