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Community buoys family of fallen sailor

Remains of Ryley Gallinger-Long, who died in Afghanistan, will come home to a hero's welcome
by: U.S. Air Force Photo by Steve Kotecki A U.S. Navy team carries the remains of hospitalman Ryley Gallinger-Long, of Cornelius, off a transport plane at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Saturday. Assigned to a Marine Expeditionary Force, Gallinger-Long died in action in Afghanistan Aug. 11.

He was born on the Fourth of July, an omen, if nothing else, that pointed toward what he might do when he grew up.

As it turned out, Ryley Gallinger-Long trained as a fire cadet in Forest Grove, joined the Navy as a medic, married his high school sweetheart and deployed to Afghanistan in July to serve his country.

Fewer than 30 days later, he was killed while on duty in the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in southwest Afghanistan, a war zone 6,000 miles from home.

A 2010 graduate of Forest Grove High School, he was only 19. But in his relative youth, his brother Zack Gallinger-Long said Monday, Ryley set and met goals he wanted to achieve - perhaps most significantly to serve other people wherever and whenever he could.

'His aspirations were to help in the military and then to become either a fire chief or an emergency medical technician,' Zack noted. 'Ryley had a big, big heart.

'He died in action. He was doing his job.'

Ryley's body is scheduled to return home to Oregon Wednesday afternoon on a private jet that will land at Hillsboro Airport. After a public viewing and memorial service at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Brooke Street in Forest Grove later this week, Ryley will be laid to rest at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland.

'Madly in love'

It's difficult for Ryley's family - his mother, Susan Blanchard of Cornelius; his identical twin brother Wyatt, a Navy fire controlman who lives in Chicago; and his wife, Hope, who was just beginning to settle in their home in Jacksonville, N.C. - to comprehend that their son, brother and husband is gone.

Hope's father, George Young of Forest Grove, first met Ryley two years ago when he took Hope to the junior-senior prom.

He was red-eyed Monday, three days after he and his wife, Lora Young, heard the terrible news.

'Hope called us at 10 o'clock Thursday night,' Young recalled. 'She said Ryley was shot while tending to a wounded Marine.'

Young is devastated over Ryley's death and the way his daughter - who trained in Utah as a dental assistant after graduating from Forest Grove High in 2009 - will have to cope without him by her side.

'Hope is going to stay in North Carolina for a few months after the funeral,' he said. 'We know there are a lot of people, especially from the military, who want to be there for her.'

Young perceived his son-in-law as a 'good person' who cared about others.

'I know Ryley liked being outside and going for rides in his new Jeep,' said Young. 'He and Hope were just madly in love.'

Hated conflict

Cody Brown, a Forest Grove Fire and Rescue intern and a high school chum of Ryley's, is helping Hope plan a succession of events honoring the fallen sailor's life.

He said he could do no less for the man he called his good friend.

'Ryley was the sweetest guy, and always very upbeat,' Brown said Saturday. They spent time together fishing, laughing and talking about future plans.

When Ryley joined the Navy after starting cadet training at the fire department, Brown had no doubt he'd do his best.

'He was the kind person who always walked away from an argument,' Brown recalled. 'He hated conflict.'

The irony that his buddy died soon after his first overseas military deployment started was not lost on Brown.

'Nothing bad ever happened to him,' Brown said of Ryley, 'until now.'

Got behind him

Official word from the U.S. government concerning Ryley's death, posted on the Department of Defense website Saturday, is that he was killed while conducting a dismounted patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in the Middle East.

He was serving as a medic with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 1, 2nd Marine Division Expeditionary Force based at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.

Signing on with the Navy had been on Ryley's mind for at least three years before that, according to Zack Gallinger-Long, who lives in Hillsboro.

The first time Zack, who's seven years older than Ryley, heard his brother talk about joining the military was during his sophomore year at FGHS.

'My mom tried to talk him out of it at first,' Zack said. 'But when she saw how serious he was, and how much he wanted to do this, she got behind him 100 percent.'

Ryley went to California in May for a month of training with the Marines. He spent an idyllic 10 days in Jacksonville with Hope just before his group deployed in mid-July.

'I'm so happy I was able to spend so much time with him before he left!' Hope wrote in her blog July 16, the day Ryley left. '[This was] not a fun day ... I'm ready for him to come home already!'

Ryley was 'a friendly, caring person' who wanted to be a part of the Navy's medical efforts abroad, Zack noted. 'The Marines don't have their own medics,' he explained.

Although Ryley had posted updates on Facebook from Afghanistan a couple of times that 'he'd been engaged in firefights,' Zack said he wasn't particularly concerned.

But the immensity of the tragedy hit Zack when he joined Hope, Wyatt and Susan at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware last weekend to welcome Ryley's body back to U.S. soil.

That event was 'powerfully sad but also very respectful,' Zack said. 'It was amazing how attentive they were to our family. Even though they've seen hundreds of these before, they're just as sad as we are.'

A Navy chaplain said a prayer while the body of an Army officer, unknown to the Gallinger-Long family, was being unloaded from a military transport plane, he said.

'A powerful effect'

Since arriving home in Washington County, Zack said, Ryley's family has been surrounded nearly constantly by caring friends and community members.

'The first day back we had 15 to 20 visits from people from all over,' he noted. 'It hit me that in the 19 years he was here, there were so many people Ryley affected and touched.'

Early this week, family and close friends were consumed with planning an appropriate farewell for Ryley. Once the funeral services are over, Zack hopes a memorial stone can be installed at the base of the American flag at Forest Grove High School in honor of his brother.

Zack thinks it would be a lasting tribute to a young man whose affable nature and ready smile many will always remember.

'He was a patriot,' said Zack. 'When Ryley knew for sure what he wanted, he went for it,' he added.

Sticking close

That's how it was with Hope, the girl Ryley met in Forest Grove and married in Illinois.

'He didn't have much time between training and deployment, so the two of them only had a week or so of married life face-to-face,' Zack said of the newlyweds. 'But they were happy during that time.'

In the wake of her husband's untimely death, Hope Gallinger-Long is spending a lot of her time with Wyatt, Ryley's twin.

'He's sticking by her pretty close,' Zack said. 'The closest thing either of them have to Ryley right now is each other.'