FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — It’s been about six months since her uncle, Craig, was killed by a drunk driver near his home in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and Capt. Jaclyn Gallagher — Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander, 43rd Adjutant General Battalion — still cries when she speaks about him.
“My aunt and uncle got married at a renaissance festival,” she said, laughing a bit through her tears. “My uncle, he played the saxophone; he played the bagpipes; he was a swordsmith; he was very intelligent — just truly a renaissance man. He was awesome.”
A little more laughter bookends Gallagher’s words as she talks about the home her aunt and uncle shared in Wisconsin.
“They lived on a decent-sized plot of land,” she said. “They had a horse. My aunt is a goofball — a little quirky — and they’d rescue wild animals. They had a pet skunk, pet raccoon, chickens.”
The tone of Gallagher’s voice becomes shaky as she starts to speak about all of the various roles her uncle played in people’s lives and the void his loss leaves behind.
“My dad’s dad left the family, left my grandmother to raise all the kids by herself when my dad was just 4 years old,” she said. “My uncle was his best friend — his older brother — and he’s lost that. And my cousin — the only child of my uncle — his kids are young. They’re the same age as my kids, and they’ve lost their grandpa. He was also so active in his community — so, that community has a hole in it — and the company he worked for sold swords across the entire globe. Really, it impacted at an international level because he was the best blade smith that they had.”
In the military, alcohol-related incidents not only negatively impact readiness, but it’s very important to remember how much they can impact individual lives, Gallagher said. Out of the loss of her uncle, Gallagher came up with an idea to create a “powerful” presentation to hopefully spread a message that leaves a distinct impression on the Fort Leonard Wood community.
“We talk substance abuse and career risks — we talk about DUIs all the time in the military,” she said. “I don’t think we talk about the hard-hitting things enough. We live in the age of information overload. We need to be able to captivate both the minds and the hearts of our Soldiers when presenting important information.”
The goal, Gallagher said, is to provide testimonials from people who have been impacted by drunk drivers as a way to make the information more relatable.
“If you have a certain focus group that you’re trying to impact — people recently out of high school, for example — and you have testimonials from people who lost their best friend in high school due to drunk driving, that’s more powerful; that is more likely to be remembered,” she said.
Gallagher passed the idea to Col. Jeff Paine, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood commander, when Paine sent out a challenge to company-level command teams here in January to submit ideas that would help individuals make positive choices when it comes to alcohol.
Paine said the idea behind his challenge was to “tap into the creativity and innovation” of junior Soldiers.
“Often, senior leaders look at a problem through the lens of their experiences and make decisions on what will or will not work,” he said. “This can overlook ideas from Soldiers, who may be closer to the problem we are trying to solve. By putting the challenge out there, I wanted to highlight and emphasize the ideas and leadership of our junior officers and NCOs, for whom the challenge of alcohol-related incidents is personal and up close. We have fantastic company-level leaders at Fort Leonard Wood, who are solving problems and accomplishing the mission every day – we can learn from them just like they can learn from senior leaders with decades of experience.”
Gallagher’s idea stood out, Paine said, “because of her personal connection, her passion and her detailed plan on how she would present her pitch.”
“She was able to communicate a tragic loss into a personally-compelling story that connects with her audience, invites them into her experience and compels them to make a personal choice about their behavior,” he said. “This is powerful and has great potential to reach Soldiers and Families to impact change.”
Gallagher said that in addition to her personal connection to the subject, her background makes her uniquely qualified to assist with this effort — and that’s exactly what she said she wants to do.
“I used to do public-speaking competitions and was part of the drama department during my collegiate years, so I have experience in delivering powerful messages,” she said.
The GC Challenge was a great idea, “in recruiting the passion and buy-in required to tackle a difficult issue,” Gallagher said. She’s hopeful her family’s loss can have some benefit to the community here going forward.
“Personal testimonies and experience working with America’s troops are essential to developing solutions and taking care of the force,” she said. “The guy who hit my uncle didn’t seem like a bad guy. He wasn’t malicious. It was just a Friday afternoon and he made a stupid decision and he’s going to have to live with it for the rest of his life.”
The ideas submitted for the contest were judged by a panel of substance-abuse experts and garrison senior leaders, said Kyle Roberts, an Army Substance Abuse Program specialist here. The runners up included submissions from 1st Sgt. Jason Thompson, Company D, 31st Engineer Battalion, and Sgt. 1st Class William Voelker, from the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence NCO Academy.