Rep. Ruben Gallego writes an ode to his fellow marines, vets in new book

On January 6, as rioters banged on the doors to the floor of the United States Capitol, Rep. Ruben Gallego in action, jumped on the furniture of the house to force calm, instructed those present to inhale their gas masks and led them to safety.

They were in a war zone against the Democratic congressman, an Iraq veteran, he said in his newly published book.

Gallego was in Marine mode, but his mind also went back to the promise he’d made to look after Lance Cpl. Jonathan Grant, his best friend in Iraq – whom he couldn’t save from an improvised explosion or IED attack.

“What motivated me to move was the terrifying faces I saw on the young staffers who looked like they were about to face their deaths,” Gallego told NBC News this week. “It just reminded me of the young men I served with and the faces I saw in battle.”

The young faces he was reminded of, what they endured and what they lost is what Gallego has tried to etch in his new book, “They Called Us ‘Lucky’: The Life and Afterlife of the Iraq War’s Hardest Hit Unit.”

They called us “Lucky”HarperCollins

The book was finished in December, but Gallego reopened it to add details and his thoughts on the January 6 attack.

“You never know where war will find you, or where your oath as a Marine will be tested,” Gallego wrote in the book, released Tuesday.

Written with “American Sniper” author Jim DeFelice, Gallego’s book is a poignant account of his time with the Lima Company during the Iraq War and how it went from “Lucky Lima” — as the unit had the fewest casualties, despite weeks of combat – to be known as the unit that saw more casualties than any other in a single war.

It is an ode to his brothers in arms, those who survived the war and those who did not.

It is also a cathartic step for him in confronting the grief and guilt of the war that haunt him, even though he functions in the highest echelons of government.

“It is a story that will never be forgotten. This was the hardest hit unit in the Iraq war,” said Gallego, whose unit was in Iraq from March to October 2005. I had experienced. It also brought back a lot of memories that I had suppressed.”

Gallego didn’t want to write the book, “because I knew it would be painful,” he said, but his former comrades had asked him. With his fame in Congress, he saw it as his responsibility.

With his fellow Marines in Iraq, in 2005. From left to right: Gilbert Miera, Ruben Gallego, Jonathan Grant and Cheston Bailon.Courtesy Rep. Ruben Gallego

His goal, he said, was to try to make war real. He wants Americans on Veterans Day to think not of the older men or women who tell their war stories, but of the 18- and 19-year-olds they were and soldiers when they go into battle.

“Too often, on Veterans Day, people look at the older veteran, who they are now. What I want you to know is who they were then, fighting in these horrible situations,” he said. “They’re not the 41-year-old chubby man with a career. It was the 18- and 19-year-olds who went through tough battles led by young men in their twenties. That’s war.”

‘When the war comes home with you’

The book is interspersed with Gallego’s account of him racing anxiously across the dark desert of New Mexico while trying to keep his fellow Lima Company member Jonithan McKenzie on the phone, who called him to ask if they were really fighting. goods. When McKenzie went to seek mental health care, the Department of Veterans Affairs refused him help, saying he was not in combat, the book says.

“What happened to McKenzie actually happened. When I was talking to McKenzie on that drive to Albuquerque, I tried to stop him from jumping off a ledge, but I realize I was talking to myself said Gallego. “This is the interplay between two close friends who were strong men but now felt the effects of PTSD in the post-war era. This is what happens when war comes home to you.”

Gallego’s unit, 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment, lost 48 men, the most casualties for a naval unit since the 1983 Beirut bombing, Gallego said in the book.

Gallego kept track of his own escapes from death in battle – 11 of them.

Gallego was elected to Congress in 2014 and represents Arizona’s 7th congressional district. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

From Harvard to the battlefield

Gallego, the son of a Colombian mother and a Mexican father, both immigrants, was born in the US but spent part of his young life in Chihuahua, Mexico. He later grew up in Chicago.

In his book, he revealed the poverty and personal shame that followed his parents’ divorce, when his father went to prison for drug possession, and how it cut in him the drive and survival instinct that led him to Harvard University and to a Marine. . recruiting station.

Gallego ended up at Harvard when the September 11 terrorist attacks happened. To round out his semester, he completed his broadcast training with a Shakespeare anthology.

“I didn’t recite an iambic pentameter between mortar rounds,” he wrote in the book, “but I did consider that the book was thick enough to hold a bullet. Maybe even a mortar shell.”

He kept his Harvard education a secret from other recruits until he was exposed by a phone call at bootcamp — a revelation his drill instructor wouldn’t quietly let pass.

Gallego insisted on serving in the infantry, even though he qualified for a number of jobs that may have kept him further from the battle. He went in as a conscript and he wanted to be a Marine.

“Among Latinos and Hispanics, there is a strong tradition of joining the Corps, and no doubt I absorbed that growing up,” he said in the book.

For many politicians, an autobiographical book is a harbinger of a higher position; remember Barack Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope” before his presidential run.

Gallego said that was not his goal in writing the book. It was, he said, ‘a difficult book to write’.

“I expose a lot of myself in this book, but I did it because I wanted it to be real. I wanted you to understand what really happens in the war and after,” he said.

He decided not to run for the Senate in 2020, paving the way for astronaut Mark Kelly, who was elected. There are supporters who would like to see Gallego, a progressive, challenge Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a centrist Democrat from Arizona, in 2024.

Gallego talked little about his performance in Congress in the book. He mentioned the state tuition bill he sponsored as a legislator in the state of Arizona, but he omitted that he had called a congressman to help McKenzie get the VA help he needed.

In the book, he focused on the Pentagon, the Bush administration, and politicians who forced troops to use the lightly armored, tracked tracks they called amtracs. He called them “our greatest vulnerability.”

Grant was in one of those transporters when a roadside bomb exploded beneath it, Gallego wrote, criticizing the strategy of evacuating and leaving towns, but generally spending little time discussing policy.

And over the course of the book, he filled his stories with his own “warts” — drinking, swearing, anger on top of things — the kind of things most politicians try to keep out of the public eye.

‘Live our lives, carry this burden on our shoulders’

Gallego said he hopes the book can focus more on post-traumatic stress disorder and veterans. He said he wants readers to know that people like him — those who return from war and move on with life, those who succeed and reach high positions — are the most common examples of veterans with PTSD.

He did this in part by sharing the love he had for his friend, Grant, and the depth of the wound left by his best friend’s death and his inability to prevent it from happening.

“Whatever I achieved in life, I was already and forever a failure. I had let my best friend die,” he said in the book.

Gallego honored his friend by naming his son Michael Grant Gallego. The book is dedicated to both, along with his wife, family and the men of Lima Company.

Since the nation needs a day to honor the service of its veterans, Gallego said he wants them to think about what veterans carry with them at ceremonies, cemeteries, picnics or services and not reveal them.

“Veterans are not this scared person who just hides in his house or a violent man who is about to explode,” he said. “We are people who walk around every day, living our lives and still carrying this burden on our shoulders.”

“And for the veteran who lives with it,” he said. “It’s okay. It’s okay to talk about it and get help.”

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