Saturday, October 03, 2009

Army Sgt. Justin T. Gallegos

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Justin T. Gallegos, 27, of Tucson, Ariz.

Sgt. Gallegos was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.; died Oct. 3, 2009 in Kamdesh, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his contingency outpost with small arms, rocket-propelled grenade and indirect fires. Also killed were Spc. Christopher T. Griffin, Sgt. Joshua M. Hardt, Sgt. Joshua J. Kirk, Spc. Stephan L. Mace, Staff Sgt. Vernon W. Martin, Sgt. Michael P. Scusa and Pfc. Kevin C. Thomson.

Arizona Daily Star -- During 21 years in the Army, Don Becker saw thousands of soldiers come and go. One from Tucson left him in awe.

Few were as fearless as Staff Sgt. Justin Gallegos, Becker told mourners at Gallegos' funeral on Thursday.

Gallegos, who grew up near the University of Arizona campus, often volunteered for war assignments that made him an enemy target, Becker said.

As an Army scout, he scoped out hostile terrain. He also served as a tank crew member, as a gunner on armed Humvees, and as a bodyguard handpicked to protect high-ranking officers.

Twice hit by enemy fire in Iraq, each time Gallegos ignored his wounds and kept shooting to protect his fellow soldiers, said Becker, a retired command sergeant major who served overseas with the Tucson soldier in 2005.

When Gallegos was killed Oct. 3 during a fierce clash in Afghanistan, Becker has no doubt that he died trying to save the lives of comrades.

"Your son was one of the bravest men I've ever met," he told Gallegos' mother, Josefina "Yolanda" Heideman.

Gallegos, of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, at Fort Carson in Colorado, was one of eight soldiers felled in a daylong firefight with insurgents near the Pakistan border.

He was the 42nd service member with ties to Tucson and Southern Arizona to be claimed by recent conflicts overseas.

An estimated 200 people turned out to pay respects at Evergreen Cemetery as the soldier was buried with military honors.

Among them was Gallegos' son, MacAidan, 5. The boy sat somberly at graveside, dressed in a dark suit, as an Army general knelt and presented him with a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and a folded U.S. flag that had covered his father's casket.

Loved ones said Gallegos was especially close to his son and spent most of his time at the child's side when he wasn't deployed.

"This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation," Brig. Gen. Sean Macfarland told the youngster.

In addition to the medals awarded after his death, Gallegos was posthumously promoted from sergeant to staff sergeant.

While military personnel recalled the soldier's courage, family members remembered him as a devoted father, brother and son.

"When people die in a war, people call them heroes. My brother was my hero all my life," said the soldier's sister, Amber Gallegos.

"He was a hero because he loved his family."

Rene McCormick, a private first class in the Army National Guard in Tucson, fought tears as he stood near the gravesite in his dress green uniform.

He and Justin Gallegos played football together at Tucson High Magnet School from 1996 until 2000, when Gallegos transferred as a senior to Aztec Middle College and graduated there.

"He was one of the greatest guys — smart, funny, outgoing," McCormick said.
"He was the kind of guy who would walk into a room and light it up."

Army Sgt. Justin T. Gallegos was killed in action on 10/03/09.

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