"PUBLIC SERVICE IS REALLY SELFLESS SERVICE"
This article was written by first-year MPA student Erin Miller for inclusion in the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of the alumni newsletter, IMPACT.
Sean Gallagher was born in Middletown, New Jersey, which he describes as a fairly large bedroom community, just under an hour from New York City. He was the oldest of his siblings, with a large age gap between Sean and his youngest sister. He assumed a lot of responsibility at age 13 when his father passed away.
As he prepared to enter college at the University of Delaware, Gallagher considered the fact that his brother was only two years behind him and chose to join the Army ROTC. “I wanted to reduce the burden on my mother,” he said, “because I knew she was going to have two kids in college at the same time.”
His decision to join ROTC was the first of many career decisions inspired by an interest in public service. “It was a family tradition,” he told me. “My parents instilled a spirit of public service and the Army reinforced it. I have a sense of pride in my community and my nation.”
Gallagher spent 10 years in the Army, most of it at Fort Bragg, though he deployed to both Iraq and Kosovo during his career. He has achieved the rank of major and describes many of his responsibilities in the military as being similar to those of a public administrator. In 2005, he decided to take advantage of the Army’s Advanced Civil Schooling program, which allows career officers to pursue a graduate degree before returning to the military. On admission to the MPA program, Sean was also awarded a Jean Coble Scholarship.
Military and Management
Gallagher describes public administration as a natural fit, given his values and training. Having lived in North Carolina for more than a decade, he understood that being a student at UNC was “something special.” The reputation of the UNC-Chapel Hill MPAprogram appealed to him because he of his goal to pursue a career in city management after retiring from the Army.
After the 2008 elections, Gallagher worked with School of Government faculty on Governor Beverly Perdue’s transition team on military affairs. “Even though I was a student,” he says, “the other participants regarded me as a professional. I don’t think that would happen just anywhere.” He said it was meaningful to “give back to the community around Fayetteville and Fort Bragg,” home to many of his friends and colleagues.
Once Gallagher completes his MPA degree, he will go back to the Army for eight years until he is eligible for retirement. He expects to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan within a year of graduating, but hopes to ultimately pursue a career in city management on the east coast.
“This is work with meaning,” he says. “Public service is really selfless service—making your community better than it already is, and helping your fellow citizens is at the heart of public service.”