By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneNovember 10, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- There are no excuses.
Supportive and loving family relationships. Career success. Being physically fit. Growing into the person you were meant to be.
If you want it, you can do it.
You can do it, even when you have endured war, confronted post traumatic stress disorder, and encountered the challenges of losing an arm and a leg.
That's the message wounded Iraq war veteran Noah Galloway delivered to Aviation and Missile Command employees who nearly packed the Bob Jones Auditorium to hear him speak at the invitation of the organization's 2014 Advanced Lift (Leader Investment for Tomorrow) Class.
Galloway, a 32-year-old medically retired sergeant who lives in Alabaster near Birmingham, is taking his message nationwide these days as the first non-famous athlete on the cover of Men's Health magazine, the nation's most popular men's magazine with 14 million readers. He was named the magazine's 2014 Ultimate Guy.
"They've never had a regular guy on the cover. It's always been a celebrity or a professional athlete that everyone knows," he told his AMCOM audience.
"It's never been a veteran. It's never been an amputee. Until now."
Galloway won the right to be on the magazine's November cover from the votes he received in the magazine's online "Guy Search" contest this past summer. And, although he is enjoying all the attention the magazine is bringing to him and his charitable causes, Galloway is a happy man these days because of the relationships he has with his three kids, because of his accomplishments in getting into shape both physically and mentally, and because of the opportunities he has made for himself as a competitive athlete and trainer.
"This is how I regained control of my life," he said about his story.
Galloway is from a military family. His grandfather served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. His grandfather's brother was a paratrooper killed in World War II. Galloway's uncle did two tours in Vietnam before he was injured while another uncle is a retired colonel, and a cousin has served on reconnaissance missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It makes perfect sense that I could follow in their footsteps," Galloway said of his youth.
Yet at first, he didn't. He shrugged the military life and chose college instead. But during his first semester at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked, and the nation went to war.
"I watched what happened on 9/11 on the TV for a while and then I went for a run. I ran and ran, and I thought and thought. I was 20 years old, physically active and our country was under attack, and I needed to do what I thought I should do," Galloway recalled.
He enlisted in the Army in October 2001. And after basic and airborne training, he was assigned to the 1st of the 502nd Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where then Maj. Gen. David Petraeus was in command.
"Leadership all the way down was amazing. Gen. Petraeus was such a good leader that it does show all the way down to private," Galloway said.
The young Soldier liked military life, and he was eager to deploy in 2003 with the 101st. As an infantry Soldier, Galloway was among the first Soldiers of the front line ground troops in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He fought in the initial strike on Iraq and spent one year in Iraq, re-enlisting in the Army while deployed.
"My buddies couldn't understand why I was so happy. They would ask me, 'How are you happy? We live in hell.' I would tell them, 'We're doing what most people can't. We're doing what feels like a movie and I enjoy it,'" he recalled. "We would spend the day fighting in combat and that was OK with me."
After the deployment, Galloway fought another kind of war. Back at home, he and his wife faced the challenges of a premature newborn with health conditions. The young couple struggled through days and months at the children's hospital in Nashville and, eventually, their son returned to health.
His son's health gave Galloway the freedom to refocus on his Army career. In September 2005, Galloway was redeployed to Iraq, serving with the 101st southwest of Baghdad in the Triangle of Death.
"It was a rough deployment. Immediately, we got hit from the beginning. We started losing guys and it never seemed to stop," he said.
"It started to affect everything. Things started to unravel and fall apart. … We never knew when we would get attacked and that (attack) could go on for a long time."
On Dec. 19, Galloway volunteered to drive the lead Humvee on a nighttime mission in Yusafiah, Iraq. Because it was dark, Galloway didn't see the trip wire stretched across the road in front of him. He went through it and an improvised explosive device -- roadside bomb -- exploded, the blast throwing his Humvee off the road and on its side in a canal. The other Humvees in the unit sped by, not knowing Galloway and his team were in chest deep water inside the wrecked Humvee.
Galloway was unconscious, and his buddies were struggling to get out of the vehicle. Realizing they had lost their lead vehicle, the rest of the unit returned to the site and rescued the Soldiers.
Galloway was taken back to his unit's makeshift headquarters in a potato factory. Medics stabilized him and he was airlifted to Baghdad, then to Germany and then back to the U.S. to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
He woke up five days later with a shattered jaw, and the loss of his left arm above the elbow and left leg above the knee. He woke up just as his parents were walking into his hospital room, and it was Galloway's mother who told him about his injuries.
During his recovery, Galloway's wife wouldn't come to the hospital, saying it was too much for her to handle. The two divorced and Galloway returned to Alabama, where he rushed into a second marriage and had two more children.
"I would go out in public and act like everything was OK. But at home, it wasn't," he said.
"I was depressed, angry, bitter. I would sit around and watch TV all night. I would drink. I wouldn't take care of myself. I was miserable. Every time I looked in a mirror, I saw a guy who was missing an arm and missing a leg."
In the wee hours of one night, however, it seemed as though Galloway woke up from his misery and decided to change his life.
"I looked in the mirror and I saw not so much what I was missing but what I was doing with what I had in life. I was the father of three kids, but I was not a good father to them," he said.
Galloway found a 24-hour gym, and he started going there to work out at 2 a.m. when no one else was there to gawk at him. There were no manuals or how-to books on how to exercise without an arm and leg, so Galloway figured out the best ways he could get a workout.
"I started pushing myself," he said. "I started looking better and feeling better. Things were looking up. I became a better father. I had more energy to be with my kids. … Today, my wives and I didn't work out, but they respect me as a father. Me and the kids are really close, and that's worth more than anything."
A friend invited him to run in a Warrior Dash in Georgia. It was a 5K event with a Scottish slant. Galloway is part Scottish, so the two grew beards, wore kilts and ran in the 5K.
"It wasn't easy. It was a struggle," he said. "But people wanted to know my story and I liked the attention. I entered more races -- bigger, longer, harder races. I was running so many that I was told I didn't even have to pay to run, that I could just show up. My pictures were being used in advertisements for races."
He also started getting sponsors.
"They wanted me to wear their logos. But I had to start turning some away because I didn't believe in them. If I couldn't lie down at night, and feel comfortable and confident in what I was doing, then I didn't do it," Galloway said.
"There were times I thought I was crazy (for turning away lucrative sponsorships). Other guys in my lane were moving faster, but I moved at my pace. Don't let things overcome the real you."
Despite his injuries, Galloway has participated in the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon, three warrior Dash events, seven Tough Mudder events, a Barbarian Challenge and six Spartan events. He has completed the Spartan Death Race, and ran the Bataan Death March Marathon (the year before running it he was a member of Operation Enduring Warrior team in the heavy division). He has completed three Crossfit competitions, and has run in several 5K and 10K races.
And then Galloway, who works as a personal trainer, put his name in the running for the online Men's Health magazine competition. Since then, he has been on the Today Show and the Ellen DeGeneres Show promoting his health philosophy and his belief in giving back. He has established the No Excuses Charitable Fund (noahgalloway.com), which is focused on reducing childhood obesity in Alabama and empowering wounded warriors through the support of physical rehabilitative activities. No Excuses raises funds for the YMCA of Greater Birmingham and Operation Enduring Warrior.
It is the November cover of Men's Health magazine that has really given Galloway's work a push in the right direction. He receives emails, phone calls and Facebook messages daily that are encouraging and supportive.
"Before the Men's Health magazine hit the shelves, I was worried what other wounded veterans would think. I was afraid I looked too arrogant or cocky. But I was wrong," Galloway said.
"Veterans, injured veterans, the spouses and parents of injured veterans, they are all telling me how proud they are of me and I never saw that coming. They tell me I'm representing the military. I was once bitter about being taken out of the fight and that I would never get that experience anymore, and maybe I'm not important anymore. But things are coming around and maybe I'm still an important part of the military."
Through his experiences and his injuries, Galloway has learned two important lessons -- one, that the nation's military is strong and will overcome all obstacles; and, two, "There are tough times you need to go through. But you're tougher than that. … When I lay down every night, there are very few regrets."
Galloway received standing ovations from his audience. AMCOM commander Maj. Gen. Jim Richardson thanked him for the inspiring story.
"In life you go through peaks and valleys. What your story has taught us is that when you're in that valley, there is light on the other side," Richardson said.