FORT HOOD, Texas – Brendan Gallagher, a 2016 graduate of Somerville High School, is back in the USA, ending a six-month deployment in South Korea with the US Army First Air Cavalry.
Gallagher, 19, and the men and women of the Second Brigade, First Air Cav arrived at their home base after a long 26-hour flight from South Korea late Friday night where they were met by family and friends.
On hand for Gallagher’s arrival were his mom, Lisa and dad Brian, the former mayor of Somerville who is now a Somerset County Freeholder.
“I am so happy I couldn’t let him go for five minutes and couldn’t get words out I was crying so hard," his mom said. “All I do is keep staring at him and he hates it, but it’s the best feeling,” she added.
“It’s an extremely proud moment for a dad to see his son come marching on a field,” Gallagher’s proud dad added. “It’s indescribable, I was at a loss for words; here’s this little boy who helped us out at the first Operation Shoebox New Jersey packing and now he’s a grown man, off in another country defending the world and that’s incredible.”
The former mayor and his young son – Brendan was 6 – helped other volunteers pack 600 care packages for shipment to US troops deployed overseas in downtown Somerville in May, 2005, which was to be the first of hundreds of packing events hosted by the volunteer organization, based in Somerville and Hillsborough.
Between 700-800 volunteers assembled 1,000 care packages Saturday at the Manville VFW while the Gallagher's were in the midst of their Texas reunion.
During his deployment in South Korea, Gallagher received over three dozen care packages from OPSHBX NJ, which he shared with members of his platoon.
“I want to say thank you for the care packages; me and all the guys in my platoon and troop loved getting them,” he said.
The Gallagher’s flew down to Texas last week for the much anticipated homecoming, and will be on their way home to Somerville Sunday.
Their son, trained as a cavalry dismount scout, will remain in Texas for a few more weeks until he receives extended leave. He plans to return home to Somerville sometime in March and said he’s looking forward to mom’s cooking.
“They’ve got some American foods and fast food in South Korea, but nothing compares to mom’s chicken every night; there’s nothing as good as a home-cooked meal,” he said.
Gallagher enlisted in the Army while still a senior at Somerville High School. He was 17.
The former mayor said his son never gave any thought to college.
“Ever since he was probably 7-8 years old he was naturally drawn to it, he had military posters hanging on the wall in his room,” Gallagher said. “He’s always been drawn to the outdoors, physical activities; he’s in great shape, he just has a natural affinity for it – and we don’t come from a military family.”
“It’s been a good learning experience being down here in Texas, helping me to break out of myself, but being overseas, that extra distance, it separates you from what you know, but it builds you up,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to focus on the Army, it gave me a chance to show what I can do.”
He earned the admiration of his fellow platoon members and a nickname – “the beast” – for his ability to meet challenges and persevere.
“Yeah, I did pretty good over there,” Gallagher said. He came in first place in several ruck marches, endurance challenges of several miles which requires a soldier to carry a heavy pack and equipment to a destination. He was also the top sharpshooter in his platoon, and commanded an observation post for three days with his South Korean Army counterparts.
“That gave me a good chance to learn my job and advance in my job,” Gallagher said. “It was a lot of fun for sure.”