An Interview with AW2′s new Sergeant Major: SGM Robert Gallagher

CSM Robert Gallagher

SGM Robert Gallagher

SGM Robert Gallagher recently joined U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) as the new Sergeant Major. SGM Gallagher is a highly decorated Soldier who has spent more than 28 years serving our country in operations all over the world. As a Soldier who has suffered from combat wounds, including a TBI, PTSD, and hearing loss, SGM Gallagher has firsthand experience with the challenges facing AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families.

I recently had the honor to sit down with SGM Gallagher and talk with him on his experiences and what he hopes to bring to AW2 and our country’s most severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families.

What was your last assignment prior to coming to AW2?

Prior to coming to AW2, I was the CSM for the Operations Group at the Joint Readiness Training Center, and prior to that I was the 1st Brigade Combat Team CSM for the 3rd Infantry Division.

Have you had any overseas assignments? What was the most memorable?

There are so many that I could mention. I conducted a parachute assault into Panama as a squad leader in Operation Just Cause. I also served as a platoon Sergeant during Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu. More recently, I served in the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division that conducted the assault into Baghdad as the battalion SGM, and I later served in North Central Iraq as a CSM.

On each one of them there was something memorable, but the combat parachute assault from 500 feet into Panama is something you never forget — especially while under fire. The best day and the worst day of my life was when I served in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993, as a part of Task Force Ranger.

It was the worst day, because we lost 18 Soldiers and 84 others, including myself, were wounded.

It was the best day of my life because it showed the incredible performance of our warriors in long-protracted battle under extraordinary circumstances in an urban environment. Throughout it all, the warriors that fought that day performed in a manner that was consistent with the values of our nation, and I was very proud of that.

The assault into Baghdad was also memorable for the intensity of the combat that we faced.

Your thoughts on leadership were recently featured by the Army as a part of “The Year of the NCO.” What are three words or phrases that sum up your leadership style?

Down to eath. Grounded in reality. Respect for people.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, looking back I think I’ve learned a lot about leadership and overcoming adversity from my dad. My mom passed away when I was very young, and my dad basically raised three boys all by himself while working two blue collar jobs. My brothers and I all turned out very well, and I really credit my dad for that. One of my brothers also joined the military, and my other brother is a Vice-President at Merrill Lynch.

What does advocating for our country’s most severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families mean to you?

It means putting forth the same focus and intensity as a trigger puller into AW2′s extremely important mission. I chose to come to this position because it’s important that we keep the Army’s promise to Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families to take care of them to the best of our ability for as long as it takes.

I was wounded during the Battle of Mogadishu and some of the remarkable things that aren’t shown in the movie Black Hawk Down are all the unseen planners and medical personnel that enabled Soldiers from that day to survive with some of the most traumatic wounds imaginable.

Our leaders had a plan for casualties, whether it was 1, 10, or 100 Soldiers. After I got wounded, I was put in surgery that night, and the very next day at 0700, the Army already had me on a C-141 to Germany with other wounded Soldiers for more intensive care and treatment.

There is no other country in the world that can do that. Providing excellent medical care for our Soldiers is what builds confidence in our brave men and woman to allow them to do the extraordinary things that they do.

What do you want AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families to know about you?

I’m available 24/7 to you and AW2 wants to get your feedback, whether it’s positive or negative. The only way that I can correctly inform Army leadership about what we have done well and where we still can improve is if we get honest feedback from our Soldiers, Veterans, and Families.

I’d also add that when I was recovering from my wounds as a result of combat in Mogadishu, the Army didn’t have a program like the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program to advocate for Soldiers and their Families. One of the most difficult challenges that I had was finding a purposeful job in the Army during my recovery. GEN Wayne A. Downing happened to take a personal interest in me, and he found me a job at USSOCOM at MacDill Air Force Base that allowed me to receive the care I needed and have a purpose.

I think my experience shows that the Army has really learned that while we provide outstanding medical care, there was more the Army could do and that’s why they stood up a program like AW2. Wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers need medical treatment to recover from their injuries, and they need a purpose that gives them confidence to transition back to the military or into civilian status.

After my injury in 1993, I was lucky that GEN Downing and many other Army leaders went the extra mile for me, but it shouldn’t be about luck. As the SGM of AW2, I intend to take a personal interest in all of our Soldiers to ensure they have a purpose in their lives so they have the confidence to transition back to the Army or to productive lives as a civilian.

Which current or former military leaders have inspired you as a Soldier?

First and foremost, GEN Wayne A. Downing was probably one of the most influential military leaders in my career. I probably learned more from that man about being a leader and how to treat people than anyone else. I also learned a lot from BG Anthony Thomas III, retired GEN Peter J. Schoomaker, retired CSM Rich Schucle, retired CSM John Harbors, and COL Kevin Owens. All of them grounded their leadership in reality and treating people with dignity and respect.

What do you enjoy doing most with your spare time?

It comes and goes with the seasons, but I generally really enjoy almost any kind of extreme sport or recreation. I’d say that skydiving is something that I really enjoy doing, but I also enjoy sitting and reading a book or just going outside and cutting my grass.

What is your favorite book?

I’ve read just about every book by Stephen Ambrose. GEN Downing actually introduced me to the author’s books, and I got to have dinner with Mr. Ambrose once. I really like his books because they are engaging to read while based in reality and fact.

What is your favorite movie?

The Boondock Saints. I haven’t had a chance to see the sequel yet, but I will definitely catch it on DVD.

What are you looking forward to doing now that you live in DC-metro area?

I’m really looking forward to being able to spend more time with my extended and immediate Family. I grew up in New Jersey, and in my 28 years in the Army, the furthest north that I have been stationed has been Columbus, GA. So I’m really going to enjoy being able to easily go up the coast to spend time with my Family.

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  • James McCormick

    Congratulations CSM it is a blessing to have you on board.
    Cpt R James McCormick AW2

  • jeffrey new

    welcome to the AW2 CSM Gallagher! I served with you in 3-15 INF. Ft. Stewart, GA. I was in the Scout Platoon. The AW2 couldnt have brought on a more better CSM. The AW2 is a great organization/program!

  • Joyce V. Garrett

    CSM Gallagher,

    I thank you so much for sharing your awesome experience and military knowledge with me as an advocate. I have conducted AW2 briefings and now I can provide some background history about you. It is also so refreshing to hear, at the top level, talks about treating others with dignity and respect and also concerns about our Soldiers having a purpose in their lives after transitioning. Welcome aboard and looking forward to meeting you in April 2010 at annual training. Rock of the Marne!!

    SFC (ret) Joyce V. Garrett
    AW2 Advocate Fort Knox, KY

  • Joshua Roby

    Evening Sergeant Major,

    My name is Sgt.(RET) Joshua Roby. Thank you for volunteering to look after our wounded. I received a Purple Heart in Iraq and was medically retired. I didn’t have the Warrior Transition Unit when I was going through my med board, and was totally lost; however, I have had buddies come back from Iraq severely wounded and go through WTU. They tell me that WTU made their transition to civilian life; and dealing with the VA, a breeze, so for that Sergeant Major, I’m truly honored that you would would step up and volunteer for the position you currently hold. My father served in Vietnam with the 1st CAV, and my Grandfather served in Korea with the 101st INF, and my father tells me that the level of support that our wounded see these days is a 1000% improvement from what soldiers in his fathers day; and his, ever imagined. Continue looking out for our guys, Lord knows they need it.

    Sgt. (RET) Roby

  • Larry Rivera

    Greetings and welcome CSM Gallagher. I’m on my 2nd AW2 tour, having RTD after slacking off back in the civilian world. It was as if I never left as I was doing so much AW2 volunteer work and Advocate support, my wife insisted that I return and much to my surprise…OMG, they took me back! This program and the quality of people, both in the head shed and those on the ground, are just amazing as you will shortly learn. And your addition to the AW2 Team has already begun to benefit my integration into the SOCOM AW2 mission. It will also serve well the goals of my supervisors to establish AW2 as a contributing asset at MacDill and throughout the global SOCOM community. I also, albeit many moons ago, have had the pleasure of a few soldier support encounters with GEN Downing and COL Jesse Johnson of the 10th Grp, which you may also know. Once again, welcome. Charlie Mike!

  • James McCormick II

    The AW2 and WTC teams are great CSM Gallagher I never met better soldiers who cared so much and had it not been for them this process would have went very bad. CSM I have major concerns for the treatment of soldiers by commands during this transition, not the WTU or anyone at this level but the units that the soldiers come from in particular the Guard and Reserve soldiers. I myself had a terrible experience with my Battalion command group and without going into details I will say it included pay issues, awards and just down right disrespect and humiliation concerning my injuries in Iraq that includes TBI/PTSD. My concern is the soldiers in ranks of E6 and below who have to endure perhaps much worse treatment, you see I was an O-3E with 16 years prior enlisted time, I received three Purple Hearts and 2 BSM’s-V had two great commands and as soon as my Battalion found out I was non deployable due to gun shot wounds, PTSD and TBI it was like going from a good soldier and commander to the worse soldier in the Army and this concerns me greatly because I fear that soldiers in lower grades are getting this as well and maybe even worse treatment and suffer in many cases in silence because of fear of retaliation.

  • robert gallagher

    @James McCormick

    Sir, thank you and I hope to be able to have an impact in this position.

    @jeffrey new
    “Scouts Out!”…and “Can Do!” We had a rock solid Task Force while deployed with 3-15IN, with an incredible group of talented Soldiers assembled in one battalion. This is replicated daily in our Army, only the names and numbers are different.

    Jeff, I appreciate your comments and once again I find myself in another great organization that serves our nations #1 asset – the Soldiers and their Family’s.
    Stay safe Jeff and remember that the Army and AW2 is here “for as long as it takes.”

    bg
    @Joyce V. Garrett
    Ma’am, aka SFC (ret) Garrett.

    Thanks for your kind words. I hope that I will be able to maintain to “walk the walk and talk the honest to goodness talk,” however hard it may be, in order to best serve our Soldiers.
    I look forward to meeting you, and all the rest of our Advocates during our upcoming training.

    bg
    @Joshua Roby
    SGT (ret) Roby,
    First off, a grateful nation thanks you, your father, and your grandfather for their service to our nation. Three generations of Soldiers in one Family is no easy feat. I can tell it is a point of pride for you also, as it should.

    I wanted this position in AW2 to help Soldiers, as I once walked in those very same boots. There are many like us who did not have the support of a Warrior Transition Command or AW2 Program. I remind myself that there is a program NOW, and it is working for our brothers and sisters-in-arms; and I want to be a part of it.

    Each major conflict our nation has been involved in since the Revolutionary War has resulted in positive change and programs for our Veterans, and these will continue to evolve.
    I want to thank you for your service to our nation and wish nothing but the best for you.

    bg

    @Larry Rivera
    Mr Rivera,
    Hey – thanks for the note and thank you for listening to your wife and coming back to AW2. The one thing i can say with a certainty is that “no one organization has a monopoly on good people,” because I have been surrounded by them throughout my entire career. It will be good for us to have an experienced Advocate at McDill AFB.
    bg

    @James McCormick II
    Mr McCormick, Sir…
    Thanks for taking the time to respond to this Blog. I am with you in your concerns and thank you for the kudos to the folks in the WTU and AW2 Program, I’ll be sure to pass them along.
    bg

  • Trey (Mad Martigan) Evans

    CSM “Bob” Gallagher,

    I wanted to personally thank you for all your service and sacrafice you have done for our great Nation. I was with 3rd ID, 2nd BDE, MP PLT during OIF and OIF III. I was there right at your flank, from the TAA all the way to Dreamland in Fallujah. I hope things are going well for you Bob. This seems like a good place to rest and regroup. Send Me!

    NOMADS, out!

  • MSG Griffin, Eric

    CSM,
    Congratulations on your new assignment. I know they picked the best man for the job. We miss you here at Fort Polk. I tried to reach you on your old email – no luck. Hope to see you down the road. MSG Griffin

  • David Tedeski

    CSM Bob Gallagher,

    Just wanted to say Congrats at the new job. I sure hope you remember me since I spent alot of time with you. Tried to email you at your old email address but havent heard anything back. I was searching for you online and found this article and wanted to say HI and congrats on the position. Also will be in your area in May.

    Dave Tedeski (AKA JR)

  • Robert H Cole

    CSM Gallagher,
    I enjoyed your speech today at the VFW / American Legion Memorial Day Ceremony in Pleasanton (CA)and especially appreciated meeting you. Your remarks were spot on for the occassion and most appropriate for this community whose residents are generally far removed from the realities of today’s war on terrorism. When you mentioned Wayne Downing during our brief meeting before your remarks,I felt that I knew of you but couldn’t put my finger on the details. This evening, I “Googled” you and it all came flooding back; Panama, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and all the other pieces of hell to which our armed forces have been deployed since my retirement in 1980. Looking back, I often regreted retiring when I did as, while my body had slowed a bit, my brain was still in gear and I might have made a contribution.

    As you know, your role with Wounded Warrior Program is the most important assignment of your career. Those young men and women deserve no less that the best that we can give them. Today, as I looked into your eyes and listened to your thoughts,and then reviewed your record, I became convinced that you are the man for that job.

    If you return to this area, I would welcome the opportunity of sharing a bottle of California Wine and one of my wife’s home cooked meals.

    All the very best.

    Robert H Cole
    LTC USA Ret

  • SGT Nichols, Corey (ret)

    Good to see you. You were an inspiration to me when we first met in Hawaii with B 2/35 INF. I know you have what it takes to get this job done.

  • PFC OIF1,SGT OIF3 Angel Cruz

    Hooah! CSM. Gallagher

    No better man for the Job!!!!! I Served along you, might remember me. SCOUT PLATOON 3-15 INF. I was SFC. Marshall’s driver in Thunder Run.
    In OIF 3 I served as PSD for LTC. LUCK. You are definetly a Soldiers NCO, Know that you have my RESPECT…..and I feel fortunate to have had your guidance. I to suffer from PTSD Severe and Chronic….not fun!!!!
    Please help our Guys..they need everything they can get. Having you as AW2 asurres me that no one will be left behind..
    CAN DO, SEND ME!!!!!

    SGT. CRUZ ANGEL, L.

    SCOUT PLATOON 3-15 INFANTRY, ALWAYS

  • Kathleen Beck

    What a great interview. Very nice comment about your dad, my uncle, raising 3 boys after your mom passed. Your extended family remain proud of the man you have become. When in Virginia Beach – get in touch, we haven’t seen you in a very long time.

  • Justin Erdman

    CSM Bob, it was a great honor to serve under you at 3/15 Inf. and to be inducted into your “haircut club”. Best CSM a soldier could have.

    I was in A Co. 2nd Plt.

    You’ll take care of them wounded soldiers like you took care of us soldiers under your command.

    Can Do,

    Erdman

  • Gwen LivinginHisgrace Brown

    I have had the pleasure of meeting this hero and know that he has improved the organization! I will miss your conversations and mentorship as you continued to pass on your knowledge to those around you. Wishing you and your family the best!

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