U.S. Army 1st Lt. Zachary Galli stands at attention at the left. On the right, the Beta Bridge is painted with "RIP GALLI"

First Lt. Zachary Galli’s Positive Attitude Influenced Others

UVA graduates remember U.S. Army 1st Lt. Zachary Galli, who earned his bachelors degree in kinesiology in 2022, as helping others, in ROTC or in the community, and for being a good influence in their lives.

Matt Kelly

Photo left contributed, photo right by Matt Riley, University Communications. 

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Zachary Galli’s comrades remember him as a good friend and mentor.

Galli, a 2022 graduate of the University of Virginia, where he participated in the ROTC program, died May 11 in an apparent training incident at Fort Johnson, Louisiana. The incident is under investigation.

Galli, 23, was an explosives ordnance officer from Williamsburg. He was assigned to the 749th Ordnance Company, 242nd Explosive Ordnance Battalion of the 71st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group, based in Fort Carson, Colorado. He had earned the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon and Basic Explosive Ordnance Disposal Badge.

Galli made a deep impression on those with whom he served and his fellow Hoos. He was well-remembered May 17 during the Army ROTC commissioning ceremony in the Rotunda Dome Room.

“Zach Galli was one of those people you rarely meet who embodies everything it is to be a good human being,” said 1st Lt. Jonathan Graf, who graduated with Galli. “He was a good officer and a good friend. He was my fraternity brother. He was my best friend.”

Graf shared his memories as one of the commissioning speakers, along with Retired U.S. Army Col. Robert T. Hess Sr., father of Army 1st Lt. Robert Joseph “R.J.” Hess of Fairfax, who was commissioned in UVA’s Army ROTC program in 2010. The younger Hess was killed in Pul-E-Alam, Afghanistan, in 2013.

The elder Hess advised Galli’s friends to share their stories of him with his family. Hess said after his son passed, his family received many memories of their son from hearing stories of which they were unaware.

A kinesiology major, Galli oversaw physical training for the battalion, organizing weekly training sessions and marches, conducting fitness tests and refining the alternate training plan. He created a fitness mentorship program pairing the stronger cadets with cadets needing fitness help.

Galli helped Anna Lee, who was commissioned on May 17, with her physical training as a cadet. Lee was not scoring high on her fitness tests and the cadet who was working with her dropped out.

“Zach was right there and got me a new mentor right away,” Lee said, adding that Galli checked on her frequently. “By the end of my second year, I ended up increasing my score significantly. Zach congratulated me in front of the entire battalion, which, to a second-year coming from a fourth-year, that meant a lot to me. It helped me to continue in the program, because I knew that I had upperclassmen who supported me like that.”

Lee also cited Galli’s work in the local community, such as organizing a clothing drive for the less fortunate.

“I looked up to him as an upperclassman who was doing things within ROTC and outside in the community,” Lee said. “He always had a positive attitude. You could tell that he had this commanding presence and that people wanted to be around him because he had an infectious positive energy. I would never see him in an upset mood. He was always willing to encourage the underclassmen.”

Galli’s optimism was a boon to Graf.

“From Zach, I learned to always keep my head up,” Graf said. “I was always a ‘Debbie Downer’ in the group and Zach was always the one smiling and carrying on. I learned to pick myself up and keep going and know that there are brighter days ahead and at the end of the day, nothing’s all that bad. Everything is one or two days away from being resolved.”

“Lt. Galli was always an excellent mentor,” the just-commissioned 2nd Lt. Caleb Macey said. “He was two years older than me and I learned a lot by watching him and seeing his example. He was always energetic, especially with physical training. He helped me develop my physical abilities, as well as my leadership abilities.”

Macey said Galli led by example, showing cadets they could work to improve the community around them.

“The biggest lesson that I learned from him is always show up with an eager face and always be ready to help other people and treat them as people first,” Macey said.

For 2nd. Lt. Maria Sobiesk, Galli demonstrated how to balance discipline and kindness.

“He was incredibly disciplined and motivated and good at what he did,” Sobiesk said. “But he was incredibly compassionate and kind. He balanced that very well. And I hope to be able to do the same.”

Members of the Cavalier Battalion plan to attend Galli’s funeral and a memorial service for him at Fort Carson.

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