PHOENIX — For as long as he can remember, Jeremiah Gallegos wanted to serve in the Army.
“I have a picture of him when he was around 5, 6 years old, Army guy with a helmet on, a little plastic grenade in one hand,” remembered Dolores Jackson, Gallegos’ mother.
Gallegos grew up hearing the stories his grandfather, Army Sgt. Pete Villegas, told him while growing up. Those stories included combat during World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
“He helped raise me with huge dedication to our country,” Gallegos recalled.
So when he turned 17, he was ready to start his journey.
“I was actually enlisted the whole year just waiting to graduate high school.”
He graduated from Agua Fria High School in 1999.
“I was gone 12 days later,” he said.
His primary interest was in tanks, so when he joined, he requested that to be his job when he enlisted. He got his wish. He ended up as a 19K M1 armor crewman assigned to the “Bonecrushers” troop of the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment.
He was sent to Kuwait and Bosnia, until the terrorist attacks on 9/11 happened.
“Within a year and a half, we were stationed in Kuwait ready to invade Iraq.”
Gallegos’ regiment was part of the 500-vehicle convoy that rolled into Baghdad in March 2003.
Gallegos worked extensively on tanks and even lived inside them.
“Living in a place the size of a bedroom with four other guys sleeping on top of the tank,” he recalled.
It was during his time in Iraq that he helped save a fellow soldier’s life. For his heroism and bravery, was awarded a Bronze Star.
He was a gunner and one night, while moving. he saw a huge explosion about 200 yards from where he and his troops were. One of the tanks in a nearby platoon had just been hit.
“At the same time, we came under fire,” Gallegos recalls.
He, along with his tank sergeant and another platoon sergeant, ran across open ground while under fire and pulled a private out.
Jackson didn’t hear about the rescue right away. Instead, it was by chance that she learned her son had been in such a fierce battle.
“I was at the base with my mom and there was the ‘Army Times.’”
She saw the headline that read “Daring Rescue” but didn’t think much of it. Instead, she grabbed the issue and took it home. It wasn’t until later that she opened to the story and saw her son’s photo.
Gallegos also earned the Army Commendation, a NATO medal and Bosnia Service Ribbon for leading a tank crew on a peacekeeping mission.
To his mother and stepfather, the incident was dangerous, but they never doubted their son’s actions.
“He’s a brave man. One thing we knew in our hearts: He’s not going to let anything happen to himself or other people,” Mike Jackson, Gallegos’ stepfather, said.
Gallegos doesn’t speak much about the incident.
“I just see it as you do what you do to help each other out.”
At the family’s dinner table, Jackson shares photos and opens newspaper articles about her son’s achievements. She points to the article of the “Army Times” she opened the day she learned of her son’s heroism.
Gallegos finished his enlistment in November 2003. He graduated from Arizona State University in 2007 and has been a teacher at Quentin Elementary School in Avondale since 2008.
“Every year I do a PowerPoint (presentation) where I have a lot of my pictures and share a lot of my experiences.”
He uses that time to talk with his students about the Army and serving the country.
While in college, he met his wife, Sandra. They teach at the same elementary school.
“He’s an amazing father, husband, teacher,” she said.
Army Sgt. Gallegos is honored to be this year’s veteran grand marshal representing Operation Iraqi Freedom. He’ll be honored during the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade on Friday.
KTAR will honor each grand marshal of the upcoming Veterans Day parade during our Profiles in Courage series.