John was the kind of guy who wasn’t afraid to stand by his ideals even if the world was against him. I learned this about him very quickly from early on. We first met early in 2015, in Daquq at the Peshmerga’s 9th Brigade. He seemed eager to get into the action and mix it up.
I remember talking to him and stating something rather bluntly about what we were up against, and with a devilish grin he replied, “Well, that’s why we’re here, right? Fucking warriors.” It caught me off guard because of how quick he was to respond and how sure of himself he was.
Our first engagement together, he maintained a calm and analytical demeanor. Maybe a tad bit complacent, but when it was time to work, the man got to it.
I was perched in the turret of my Humvee, overlooking Zahgar village—a Daesh-held territory. From the moment we entered the opposing village to set up an overwatch for the bulldozer constructing a berm line, we came under fire.
As rounds hissed past, my teammates in two other Humvees and I proceeded to engage via talking guns, with bursts to probable enemy firing positions. It was around 500 to 600 meters between us and them. Next thing I know, John has climbed up the backside of my Humvee, binoculars in hand. With little concern of exposing himself to enemy fire, he starts scanning for targets. Several minutes pass by and John shouts to me, “I think I’ve got something!”
“Call it out!” I yell back.
John proceeds to pinpoint a bunker in front of a building on the right side of the village.
Now, I can’t recall exactly the order of events, but through sustained fire on that location, combined with systematic sweeps over the village, intersecting our fields of fire, we achieved firepower superiority and maintained it throughout the day. It appeared we had gotten Daesh’s address, because it became routine. With little expenditure of ammunition for the remainder of the day, we were able to maintain control of the situation. During that time, John climbed into the turret and got a little piece for himself. Every time Daesh started feeling froggy, we would shut them up.
Eventually British air came on station and started dropping the hate. Sure enough, the last bomb to drop was on the exact location John had pinpointed through his binos. All enemy fire ceased from all directions at that point. A battle damage assessment came in several days later to confirm 13 dead caliphate members.
John was always on his game like that; outnumbered or outgunned, it didn’t matter to him. He stood his ground and never wavered, whether it was a firefight or an argument. I once witnessed him argue with other volunteers about the definition of a mercenary versus a contractor for three hours! The man could not be swayed. I happened to disagree with him on that occasion, but his resolve had to be admired.
I remember I had poked fun at him after a trip to the local bazaar. He just finished buying a MOLLE-compatible LBA, but instead of also purchasing mag pouches for it, he bought a chest rig and wore it over the top. I definitely told him to buy pouches, but he was confused because MOLLE wasn’t used when he was in the service.
A man who hadn’t been in a fighting role for over a decade packed up his life and picked up a rifle to defend humanity. That’s just the kind of guy John was.
John Gallagher was killed in action on November 4, 2015, while conducting combat operations near Hasaka, Syria, alongside Kurdish YPG forces. John was ambushed by an Islamic State suicide bomber and killed.
John, I wish I could drink a beer with you and know you as a person one last time, brother. You will not be forgotten. See you in Valhalla someday. I’m sure we’ll find you arguing with some Viking over a mug of mead.