As far back as Edwin L. Garris can remember, he wanted to be a soldier.
Brotherly influence played a role.
The youngest of seven children, Garris' four brothers all served in the military. Determined to follow in their footsteps, he signed up for delayed entry into the Army during his senior year at Kensington High School.
"I had two brothers in the Army, one brother in the Marine Corps and one brother in the Navy," said Garris, who following his high school graduation headed to Fort Sill, Okla., in June 1984 to begin basic training.
Unlike his brothers, Garris would serve in multiple war zones, though one brother, sailor John Washington, worked in a support role in the global war on terror.
His other brothers would have gladly gone to war if called upon, Garris added, explaining that his three tours of duty were the result of timing and world circumstances.
After Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Garris arrived in Saudi Arabia in September 1990 and fought in the First Gulf War as a member of the 24th Infantry Division.
"It was an eye opener, the power, weaponry and technology that the United States had brought to bear on the Iraq army. I was with a tank task force and it was devastating. I saw a lot of destroyed enemy tanks, trucks, a lot of equipment just blown to bits," Garris said.
The military might, he said, also exacted a toll on enemy fighters.
"There were a lot of bodies along the sides of roads," he said.
Edwin L. Garris, 52
Hometown and residence: Buffalo
Rank: command sergeant major
War zones: 2 Iraq deployments, 1 Afghanistan deployment
Years of service: enlisted 1984, active duty 10 years; currently serves in Army National Guard
Most prominent honors: Combat Action Badge, New York State Military Hall of Fame member, Meritorious Service Medal
Specialties: field artilleryman, air defense and infantry
With Kuwait liberated and the war won in early 1991, Garris returned home a few months later. He figured that he would never personally experience another war during his military career.
That proved to be a miscalculation.
As a member of the Army National Guard, Garris was activated in March 2004 and sent back to Iraq, this time as part of the War on Terror in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
A sergeant first class, Garris headed a military police platoon, bringing with him skills he had picked up since joining the Buffalo Police Department in 1986, where he is now a lieutenant.
"Iraq was a lot different than my first time. There was a lot of enemy contact. We were responsible to protect convoys that carried food and logistical equipment. We traveled from one end of Iraq to the other," he said.
That offered the enemy plenty of opportunities to attack.
"The vehicle I was in was hit on different occasions by improvised explosive devices. It happened at least twice and we were able to push through. We were in an armored Humvee and that armor saved a lot of soldiers' lives," Garris recalled.
In May 2005, he returned home.
"I thought that would be my last war deployment," he said.
But again the military summoned Garris back to the front lines.
In January 2008, he headed to Afghanistan, this time assigned as the noncommissioned officer in charge of a base defense operation center in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
"It was a lot more responsibility. I had to make sure anybody who came onto the post was supposed to be there. All of the movement had to go through our operation. Nobody could leave or come on that post without us knowing about it," he said.
At the time, insurgents throughout Afghanistan were trying hard to penetrate military installations. They often arrived wearing suicide vests they detonated or drove explosive-laden vehicles that crashed through gates and blew up.
Garris says he maintained tight security and fortunately no attacks happened during his 12-month watch.
But his duties sometimes required him to travel from the post.
"Another one of my jobs was to train the staff of a one-star Afghan general and I would have to go to this all-Afghan army installation," he said.
During one of the training sessions, Garris said the facility was attacked by insurgent rockets.
"It happened in the middle of the night. I was inside a building and the soldier I was with was outside. I immediately went out looking for him. My only concern was for that soldier. I found him and made sure he was OK."
In January 2009, Garris returned home and, since then, has not been deployed to another war zone.
But in 2014, he deployed to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where terror suspects are detained. Garris served for a year as the brigade command sergeant major at the facility.
On his return to Buffalo, he continued with the city police force and advanced to the rank of lieutenant. He currently serves as a supervisor in the 911 call center.
Married for 31 years to the former Cynthia Frierson, Garris and his wife have three daughters.
He says that if he is called upon again to serve in a war zone, he will gladly respond.
"My bag is always packed," Garris said. "I serve at the pleasure of the president of the United States."