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USAMU Soldier takes top honors at annual competition

WASHINGTON — For the second time this decade, a Fort Benning Soldier has been named one of the Army’s top warriors.

A Soldier from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit won the 2010 Army “Soldier of the Year” Best Warrior Competition held Oct. 19-23 at Fort Lee, Va.

SGT Sherri Jo Gallagher, a shooter and instructor for the unit’s service rifle team, was announced the winner Oct. 25 by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston at the Association of the United States Army awards luncheon attended by senior Army leadership. SGT Gallagher also has the distinction of being the first woman to earn the title since the competition’s inception in 2002.

“This is such an honor — I don’t think it has sunk in yet,” SGT Gallagher, a Prescott, Ariz., native, said moments after winning the prestigious title. “Any one of us could have won the competition. I learned so much from everybody out here and loved every minute of this experience.”

SGT Gallagher and SSG Christopher McDougall, the NCO of the Year, will represent the Army at special events throughout the next year.

SGT Gallagher mastered a series of benchmarks over the course of the year to qualify for the “Super Bowl” of Army competitions. The 26-year-old shooter won Fort Benning’s competition back in the spring and moved ahead to the Training and Doctrine Command event in June at Fort Monroe, Va., and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. After three days of intense competition with candidates from the Combined Arms Center, Combined Arms Support Command and Initial Military Training, SGT Gallagher, competing for the U.S. Army Accessions Command, was named TRADOC’s Soldier of the Year. At the Best Warrior Competition, Gallagher represented TRADOC against 11 Soldiers from major commands across the Army.

“The reason I was successful is because of the training my sponsor developed for me,” said Gallagher, of her mentor, SFC David Steinbach. “He pushed me so hard that I was ready for everything during the competition. Nothing came as a shock and my confidence was really high. I wish that I could share this with him because it truly was a team effort.”

“I tell people that training her was as easy as using a claymore mine,” said SFC Steinbach, who attended the AUSA awards ceremony. “Just pull a trigger and she’ll do all of the work. She kept thanking me for pushing her while we trained.”

In between preparing for numerous boards and Soldier competitions, SGT Gallagher continued to compete in USAMU events. As one of the top long-range rifle shooters in the country, she currently owns 21 national records. On the heels of her victory at the TRADOC competition, SGT Gallagher won the National High-Power Rifle Championship in August, becoming the first service member since 1987 to win the title. Her mother, Nancy Tomkins, was the first.

“My family is always there for me — we are really close,” said the sergeant, whose mother attended Monday’s luncheon. “It made it that much more special that my mom was able to be there sitting next to me today when they said I won. I am who I am today because of my family. We have so much fun and live life that way. I think when you think positive then positive results will occur.”

“My Army family is awesome,” she said. “My teammates on the service rifle team have always had my back. The entire unit went out of its way to support me in any way they could. Even the leadership at (Accessions Support Brigade) and (U. S. Army Accessions Command) would call me and offer help. The whole experience was just fantastic.”

As a unit that falls under USAAC, Gallagher is used to representing the Army all over the nation. One of the USAMU’s main missions is to enhance Army recruiting and connect America’s Army to America’s people. Her added task of being an Army ambassador for the next year should come rather easy.

“It has been said, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’” said LTC Daniel Hodne, commander, USAMU. “Sergeant Gallagher possesses a unique combination of skill sets and character traits. She easily stands out because she is truly ‘one of a kind’ and we simply knew that she had the potential to earn the prestigious title of Army Soldier of the Year.

Next week, she’s headed to the U.S. Army Airborne School and, soon after, the Warrior Leaders Course.“How great is the Army?” she asked. “I just got to spend a week with some of the most talented people this Army has to offer, and in a few weeks I get to jump out of an airplane. Nothing is better than being a Soldier.”