Amanda Gallo was just 2 years old when she decided she wanted to become a soldier.
As a second-grader, she further solidified her decision to serve her country following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. After joining the Riverhead High School NJROTC as a freshman, she decided to pursue the Navy.
A few years into the program, she learned that a law restricting women from serving on submarines had been reversed. She dedicated herself to becoming one of the first female submarine officers.
About a month ago, Midshipman Gallo, now 21, achieved that goal.
In an interview last week, the 2012 Riverhead High School graduate confirmed she’s one of six women recently selected to serve on a submarine.
Officials at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., — where she’s studying nuclear engineering and will graduate from in May — estimate a total of 125 male and female candidates were chosen last year. They said over 75 women have served or are serving in the submarine force in the Navy’s history since the law was reversed in 2010.
“I kind of accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to get it because it’s really competitive,” Midshipman Gallo said. “A spot opened up and I was told by my captain at school that they wanted to interview me. It was kind of a shock. I wasn’t expecting it to happen because I already accepted my fate.”
Midshipman Gallo, who will serve on the submarine unit in 2017, said she enjoys working on submarines because she likes the camaraderie, teamwork and tactical aspects of the unit.
“It’s a really small, elite community and hard to get into,” she explained, “and every time I meet a new crew they’re just passionate experts, really family-oriented.”
Before securing her spot, Midshipman Gallo interviewed Dec. 15 for the highly competitive position at Naval Reactors in Washington, D.C., where naval nuclear engineers inspect ships and run drills with sailors to make sure they’re running the reactors properly.
While she was there, she talked about her recent summer internship at Brookhaven National Lab, where she learned how to do computer modeling of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi power plant accident and researched ways to make reactors safer.
Midshipman Gallo decided to pursue nuclear engineering because she’s passionate about math and science.
“When I was younger, I was inspired by Thomas Edison and wanted to create new things,” she said. “As I got older, I learned what engineering was.”
Originally, she wanted to learn about aerial engineering because she liked helicopters. But after talking with RPI professors when she first toured the school, she was encouraged to switch to nuclear engineering since there are a lot more research opportunities.
Her adviser at RPI, Lt. John Hartzell, said she has excelled in her studies and described her as “always going above and beyond for her unit.”
“At a young age, knowing what she wanted to do really set her up for success,” he said. “She knew it was going to be difficult and put in the time and effort to do well academically and professionally in order to meet the requirements of the nuclear program.”
Lt. Col. Peter McCarthy, senior naval science instructor for the Riverhead NJROTC unit, said Midshipman Gallo is one of his top cadets and that he’s very proud of her feat. In particular, he said she earned a $180,000 Navy ROTC scholarship to attend RPI after demonstrating her superb leadership skills.
Lt. Col. McCarthy showed an article written by Midshipman Gallo’s friend Katie Blasl of RiverheadLOCAL to his students last month to discuss the historic significance of her accomplishment.
“She set the bar really high and achieved everything she set out to do,” he said. “She’s very physically fit, focused and disciplined. I’m definitely not surprised she was selected for one of those assignments.”
Lt. Col. McCarthy is the person who informed Midshipman Gallo about the law being reversed and said the Navy has reconfigured its spaces and bathrooms on submarines since then in order to accommodate female officers.
“Women have proven to be top leaders in the military and there’s no reason they can’t work in submarines,” he said. “They’ve already been on naval ships, so there’s no reason why they can’t work in a submarine environment as well.”
Midshipman Gallo said she’s met many female officers who have served on submarines and described them as an inspiration, especially since they’ve “taken the hard hits in making that culture shift happen.”
“They’ve dealt with salty sailors that have been there for years and have been used to an all-male culture,” she said. “They are really smart, dedicated women. For them, it was just as competitive as it is for me to join the program, so they’re really at the top of their class.
“They’re really dedicated to the mission, their sailors and getting the job done.”
While Midshipman Gallo hopes to obtain her Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and work in a national lab, she looks forward to seeing where her naval career will take her, including possibly becoming an admiral some day.
But the Riverhead native isn’t done dreaming about her future.
Astronaut Gregory Reid Wiseman recently visited RPI, his alma mater, and talked to students about his experiences working at the International Space Station.
Midshipman Gallo described the meeting as inspirational and said the former Navy fighter pilot even reached out to her and asked to keep in touch about her career decisions.
“Hopefully the opportunity comes out for me to apply to be an astronaut,” she said. “That’s always been a way far-out dream when I was a kid, but I think it’s a little more realistic now.”
Top photo: Amanda Gallo, a 2012 Riverhead High School graduate, is part of a select group accepted to serve on a submarine in the U.S. Navy. (Credit: Courtesy photos)