An Arizona Congressman will bring two fellow Marines with whom he fought during some Iraq’s deadliest days as guests at the annual State of the Union speech given by President Joe Biden Thursday in Washington D.C.

Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Marine Corps combat veteran, will bring John and Cheston Bailon, two Navajo brothers who the lawmaker fought alongside with during some of the most violent fighting of the Iraq war in 2005. All three served together in Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment as infantrymen. Gallego was a mortarman by training but in Iraq he was part of a line company.

Gallego chronicled his wartime experience in a book titled, “They Called Us ‘Lucky’ The Life and Afterlife of the Iraq War’s Hardest Hit Unit.”  Lima 3/25, as the company was known, suffered some of the highest casualties of any U.S. unit in Iraq while Gallego and the Bailon brothers were in its ranks.

“I’ve known John and Cheston for 20 years. They introduced me to Navajo culture and we went through the grinder together in Iraq,” Gallego told Task & Purpose in a statement. “Because of the relationship and experiences I have with them, I’ve made Tribal and veterans issues some of my top priorities. This year I wanted to honor them for their leadership and underscore my steadfast commitment to keep fighting for people like John, Cheston, and their families.”

In January 2005, 180 Marine reservists were mobilized as part of Lima 3/25 for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The unit got through its first two months in Iraq without one casualty, earning the nickname “Lucky Lima.” But in May 2005, their fortunes flipped as the al Anbar region had become an al Qaeda stronghold. 

An ambush in a house killed two of Marines, including a platoon sergeant. Two days later, Gallego’s best friend and several others died in an IED attack. Then an August operation in Haditha led to the deaths of 13 Marines in an IED attack. By the time Lima returned home in November, 46 Marines and two Navy Corpsmen serving with the battalion were killed in nine months, 23 of them from Lima.

John is the Board President at Hesperus, a nonprofit that fosters educational and employment opportunities for Native youth and veterans through technological initiatives. Both brothers work at Sandia National Laboratories, a federally funded research center in New Mexico.

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The Bailon brothers will be among a number of guests of lawmakers at the State of the Union who are connected to ongoing global conflicts including families of Israelis who are being held hostage in Gaza and a Ukrainian soldier who came to New York to receive medical treatment.

While Gallego’s office confirmed there’s no familial relation between the brothers and the famous Navajo Code Talkers, the tribe has had a long history of service with the Marine Corps. The “Original 29” Navajo Code Talkers used their native language as an unbroken code that Marines used to communicate with one another during World War II combat. 

Code talking was first used during World War I with soldiers from the Choctaw tribe, who began speaking their native language to confuse the Germans. But the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II revolutionized the practice as U.S. Marines in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, including Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima. 

Though the Navajos who served in the Pacific are well known for their service, Comanche soldiers served as code talkers as well in Europe. Thirteen Comanche Code Talkers landed on Utah Beach during the Normandy, France invasion and maintained wire telephone lines to send secure messages by field telephone or radio.

Code Talkers worked in pairs with one man on the radio while the other translated and kept an eye out as security.

Gallego sits on the House’s Armed Services Committee and Natural Resources Committee. He was former chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples, where he authored a bill to reauthorize and expand programs for tribes to investigate, treat, prevent, and prosecute child abuse. The bill passed the House last year and is being considered by the Senate. 

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