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.