Ruben Gallego talks about his new book
On war, what comes after it, and using ambition as a crutch
By now, it’s a classic political career move: write a book that bares your soul and endears you to the common man, and then use that book as a springboard to higher office.
U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego knows the playbook. But he says his new book isn’t about his own ambition, at least not in the traditional sense — it’s about the guys he served with in the Iraq War as a Marine, their struggles, their bravery, their lives, their deaths.
“They Called Us ‘Lucky’: The Life and Afterlife of the Iraq War’s Hardest Hit Unit” dives deep into his time in Iraq, where he lost dozens of people he served with, including his best friend, Jonathan Grant. He lost even more after their return to the United States.
He was lucky. He dodged death 11 times. But all those brushes with death left him deeply scarred, and with a sense of fatalism that he still carries with him today.
In the book, he writes about his eventual recognition that he has post-traumatic stress disorder, the ways the war bled into his life afterward, how he focused on work and his own ambition to avoid dealing with the trauma.
Some of the stories will ring familiar to Arizonans who know him, including his split-second decision to run for Congress. Those are the kind of big choices he now says he was making for the wrong reasons, shooting from the hip just to keep moving to the next thing, keep forgetting the war.
We read Gallego’s book, cowritten with author Jim DeFelice, then spoke with the congressman about it. The interview was condensed for clarity and length.
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Why now and why this book? Why did you decide to write this book?
Well, I mean, why not? Because I finally was in the mental space to do it. I've been suffering through PTSD for almost 15 years and started getting therapy a couple years ago. And why this book is because, well, this is the only book I’ll ever write, and I actually didn’t even want to write this book. The only reason I wrote this book is because my friends I served with wanted this book to be written. And when you're a member of Congress, you have certain privilege and you have a responsibility to use that privilege. I started this process in 2019, and found the co-author in early 2020 … And we started right before the pandemic, and used the pandemic actually the time that I had there, to finish this off. And largely, the other reason why, it's because we're just starting to die. You know, a couple of main characters in this book actually died while I was still editing the book. Guys are committing suicide. … I mean, this is the hardest hit unit in the Iraq War, probably since the Vietnam War, if we look deep in the records. One-third of everybody in my company was either killed or wounded. Those numbers don't normally happen in modern warfare. And the story just needed to get out and needed to be told, and I was the one who I guess was in the spot to tell it.