With so many stories paying tribute to war veterans lately, I wanted to pay tribute to the coast guard auxiliarists. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is made up of civilian men and women that donate more than two million hours annually nationwide, mainly for concerns related to marine safety.
Washington Heights resident John Gallager, 49, will become the new Coast Guard Auxiliary commander in the end of this December. He will replace present commander, John Howell, 64.
Gallagher, who works as a media director at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and learns to play the bagpipes in his non-auxiliary life, began volunteering at the coast guard auxiliary in battery park city by pure accident. During the 2004 Republican convention former president George W. Bush’s visit created great commotion in the waters surrounding Manhattan. The Manhattan Sailing Club, where Gallagher sailed, could not fully function because of frequent inspections from the Coast Guard.
Gallagher learned about the Coast Guard Auxiliary. He offered his help, and soon the Coast Guard began giving him assignments.
He started out as a secretary, taking notes at meetings. Over time, Gallagher said he had so many jobs as an auxiliarist, he doesn’t remember them all.
Gallagher’s five years of service have been very productive. In 2006 he founded the fifth auxiliary unit for upper Manhattan. His recruiting efforts attracted 30 members to the Washington Heights and Inwood Coast Guard Auxiliary. This year, Gallagher negotiated with the Yankee stadium to flash a boating safety message on the screen at the first game of the World Series.
Despite all his accomplishments, Gallagher stays humble. He keeps the several medals he received from the Coast Guard in a Tupperware container on a counter in his kitchen. He jokes about the many sets of uniforms he owns.
“On old bastards like me it looks pretty funny,” said Gallagher about the navy blue uniform he wears on auxiliary operations. “When I wear that I look like I should be fixing a closet or something.”
The more formal three-piece suit with a white captain’s hat that auxiliarists wear to meetings make them look like “doormen at very nice hotels,” said Gallagher.
There is only seven weeks left until Gallagher’s new position takes hold. He said he is looking forward to taking over for Howell.
“I didn’t feel ready to do anything I’ve done,” said Gallagher. “There is no way to prepare.”