PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego just published a new book this week ahead of Veterans Day. "They Called us 'Lucky': The Life and Afterlife of the Iraq War's Hardest Hit Unit" was co-authored by the man who wrote "American Sniper," Jim DeFelice.

Gallego, a Democratic who represents the 7th District of Arizona and serves on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs and the House Armed Services Committee, is a combat Marine veteran. "For many years, I, you know, had been carrying PTSD and not really being honest about it," Gallego said. "I had this, you know, deep void in my soul. My heart that I was trying to fill with, you know, artificial successes instead of actually dealing with the trauma that I had been carrying for 15 years."

Lima Company

His battalion saw so little action early on in their deployment.

He says he didn't want to write this book but couldn't keep the story of the men he served with locked inside forever. "Trying to write this book was extremely painful. It unlocked feelings I hadn't had forever," Gallego said.

His Marine unit, the 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment, once dubbed "Lucky Lima" for seeing so little action early on in their deployment, quickly saw their fortune change. "I was in pretty much consistent combat for six months," Gallego said.

Lima Company lost 22 Marines and a Navy corpsman in just six months in Iraq. "The thing that still hurts me and haunts me to this day is the fact that the IED that killed my best friend actually should have killed me," Gallego said.

He rolled over the mine that went off on the next rig in their caravan, killing his best friend, Lance Cpl. Jonathan Grant. In two days, their platoon lost half their men. Gallego went into auto-drive to stay alive. "I just became numb. I just became numb to death," Gallego said.

When he came home, he didn't think he fit any of the telltale signs for PTSD, no deep depression or suicidal thoughts. "I thought, how could I have PTSD? I'm a successful person. I was in the statehouse by 30, a member of Congress by 34. You know, I had a house, I had a family, living the American dream," he said.

"For me. It's guilt. I have guilt that I survived. I sometimes feel guilty when I'm having fun and enjoying myself knowing what happened to other men and what their families went through," Gallego said.

He spent years chasing ways to fill the void, then finally sought intensive therapy. Even today, he doesn't consider himself at peace. He says he has found a way to be present and be centered by learning to focus on his family. "When people think about veterans, they think about a guy that's in his 40s and pudgy like me. But in reality, you know, the veterans made when he's 18, 19, 20 years old, trying to do what's right for the country," Gallego said.

So this isn't just another war story. This is about those men, the ones who died, and the others, like him, who had to find their way to live on. "My goal is to basically destigmatize PTSD and, and educate people about you know, what it really means and, and if you're a veteran, don't be afraid to ask for help. Right? It doesn't mean you're weak. It doesn't mean that something's wrong with you," Gallego said.

Lima Company

Lima Company lost 22 Marines and a Navy corpsman in just six months in Iraq.

He covers so much ground in the book, rising to the rank of Marine corporal with Lima Company, raised by a single mother, the first in his immigrant family to attend college, graduating from Harvard, his path from poverty to patriot shaped who he is today representing his constituents in Congress.

In fact, after the deadly Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol, he says things kind of came back full circle, fighting for democracy as a Marine and a politician. His publisher asked him to go back and add that in, which had him making final edits during his honeymoon. He says while we often seem more polarized than ever in the United States, there's nothing we can't overcome.

"Most of the guys I served with in Iraq are hardcore Republican Trump supporters. And they pick on me all the time, and we love each other," Gallego said. His book, "They Called Us 'Lucky': The Life & Afterlife of the Iraq War's Hardest Hit Unit," is available now.


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