David Galluch, a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District, spoke with VISTA Today about losing his father before he was born; growing up in suburban Buffalo, and playing multiple sports in high school and the impact his football coach had on him.
Galluch also discussed his family’s military history, which prompted him to attend the Naval Academy; how when he looks at what’s going on in our country, he thinks about the great leaders of the past; what made him want to run for Congress; and the issues he’s passionate about.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, New York, and grew up in a suburb of Buffalo called Hamburg.
My wife Caroline grew up in Hockessin, DE – just over the PA/DE state line near Chadds Ford. When I got out of the Navy, she and I moved to Newtown Square in Delco to be close to her family.
All I knew throughout my adult life – and all we knew as a couple – was the military, so we wanted to choose where we’d build the rest of our lives carefully. I’m proud to say that though I wasn’t born in Delaware County, it is the first place I’ve ever been able to choose to live in my life. It reminds me a lot of where I grew up – a place proud of its history and full of hard-working, down-to-earth people who love their communities. I love living here.
What did your mom and dad do?
My father was killed by a drunk driver before I was born. My mom found out she was pregnant with me right around the time of his wake in 1989. Growing up, my mom worked at a medical equipment company. She also worked as a fitness instructor on the side, teaching classes at various gyms before co-founding a gymnastics gym with a friend of hers, where she taught gymnastics to young athletes for over 10 years. She worked hard because she had to – but she also worked in fitness for the love of it. She instilled a love of physical activity and athletics in me that persists to this day.
What do you remember about growing up in Hamburg?
We lived about 5 minutes from my mom’s parents, so they were very present in my life. My grandfather was a father figure to me. He was an amazing guy and is responsible for a lot of what I know today. He taught me how to throw a football, gave me a love of reading, and we spent a lot of time together outside.
My mom has three brothers, and my dad was one of seven, so I have a huge family. Family was always present in my life growing up, which is why I put so much emphasis on family today. I have very fond memories of family parties, playing with my cousins, and spending time with all of my aunts and uncles.
My favorite place as a kid was my grandparents’ cabin on a lake about an hour from our house. I spent a lot of time there water skiing on their boat and exploring the woods in the area with my uncles, BB gun in hand.
What jobs did you have growing up?
I started working as a dishwasher when I was 15 years old. A few of my friends worked with me, so we had a lot of fun together. I think we made $5.25 an hour. That job helped me put gas in my car and have fun with my friends my junior and senior years of High School. I worked hard and it was a great experience that taught me a lot about growing up.
What lessons did you take away from those early jobs that stay with you today?
I grew up with a mom who always worked two jobs, so I knew instinctively just how hard you have to work to get by. But once you start working for yourself, you really understand just how important hard work, budgeting, saving, and tough decisions are. I’ve never forgotten those people I worked with at the restaurant – many of whom were raising families, putting themselves through school, or balancing other important things as working people. My firsthand experience provides great context for me when I think about how we can make life better for so many working people today.
It sounds like you played a lot of sports growing up.
I played football and lacrosse in high school. Growing up I played soccer, basketball, baseball, and lacrosse at various times – in addition to “backyard sports” every day for most of my childhood. I rowed in college. I’ve always loved sports and love to work out a lot. My wife Caroline played field hockey in college so we share a deep love of fitness and working out together.
What kind of music were you listening to back then?
I’ve always had an eclectic taste in music. Growing up, my mom loved oldies like the Beatles and Rolling Stones, so I listened to them a lot. In middle and high school, I listened to classic rock – ACDC and Led Zeppelin – and country music. If you looked at my Spotify today, you’d see music from every genre and decade. I listen to a lot of Chris Stapleton now.
Why did you decide to go to the Naval Academy?
My mom’s younger brother went to the Naval Academy, and my grandparents were very proud of him. One of the pictures I love best is of me as an infant at his Naval Academy graduation in a Sailor suit. I guess I never had a choice!
I always knew I wanted to be in the military. When I was younger my grandfather told me stories about our ancestors who fought in every major war our country has participated in. Service runs deep in our family, predating the American Revolution. In short, my family has always believed in the fundamental promise of this country and served to defend it. I’m an heir to that legacy and going to the Naval Academy was my way of doing my duty.
How was your first year as a plebe?
Plebe Summer is definitely one of the most mentally challenging things I have ever gone through. The confidence boost it gave me and the personal transformation it induced made it an invaluable experience. I learned to live my life by a code that emphasized things like duty, honor, and loyalty.
A wide range of folks come to the Academy from different backgrounds and geographies. Still, together we all speak the same language, endure the same hardships, and have similar moral and civic compasses. At the end of the day, Annapolis taught me the timeless American lesson – there is more that unites us than divides us.
Looking back, was the Naval Academy a good place for you?
If I had to redo my life 100 times, I’d go back to Annapolis for all 100 of them. I have such an appreciation for what I learned and for the people I stood side-by-side with. It really underscored the capacity of what we can achieve together as a country when we work together toward a common goal.
I believe that we should be using the best of our past, traditions, and history to amend our shortcomings. We are the heirs to a lot of great achievements that Americans have accomplished in the past. Many of them went to places like the Naval Academy and West Point. It’s humbling to follow in their footsteps. I feel a weight to live up to a certain level of civic virtue and achievement to honor that legacy, which is a good thing.
Who were the people who saw promise in you early in your life?
My high school football coach, Rich Gray, had a huge impact on me. He always used to say, “No matter how many times you get knocked down, just get back up.” That mindset got me through the Naval Academy, my post-Academy training, and two deployments. He is a great person who I owe so much to.
At the Naval Academy, I had an upperclassman mentor, Kevin Schrodt, who exposed me to the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)community. When I got to Annapolis I thought I wanted to be a fighter pilot or a SEAL. He had such an effect on me that it changed my career trajectory. Kevin was a senior when I was a freshman. His influence was one of the primary reasons I selected EOD as a career.
What do you think Kevin saw in you that made Kevin want to mentor you?
He saw that I wasn’t afraid to put myself out there, take chances, and make hard decisions. I think he saw natural leadership ability in me.
One time, he and a few seniors took us on a “secret mission” during Army Week in the middle of the night. At the time I was the Plebe commander or head of all of the 30+ freshmen in my company. While we were on this mission – running back to the dormitory wet and sandy after doing a midnight PT session on the beach – he asked me the difference between him and me. I didn’t know what to say. He said, “nothing.” It was his way of telling me that despite our rank difference, I was doing my job as a leader and had gained his respect.
When was the first time you realized that people looked to you for leadership?
I was involved in student government in middle and high school. I was always willing to step up and represent the views of my peers. But I’d say it really started to become clear at the Naval Academy my Plebe year. In my junior year, it was made official. Every year, a Midshipman from each class in each battalion (6 battalions at the Academy, about 700 students in each) is selected by their peers for a leadership award. It was humbling to be selected as one of 16 out of over 4,000 Midshipmen – all of whom are natural leaders and high achievers.
Any other individuals you’d like to recognize for seeing promise in you?
The Naval Academy Foundation endows several scholarships for Midshipmen to get their graduate degrees after leaving Annapolis. I was lucky enough to participate in a program run by a cadre of professors and officers who help you refine your interests, apply for schools, and understand how further study will make you a better officer and leader. I was lucky enough to go to the University of Cambridge in the UK after graduation, where I got a Master’s Degree in Development & International Economics. I’m forever indebted to the group of professors and officers who helped me develop and secure an amazing experience.
What made you want to jump in the race for Congress?
I’ve practiced real leadership. I’ve seen what selfless service looks like. Many of my colleagues bear visible scars of their records of leadership and service. Some are no longer here.
When I look at what’s going on in our country, I think about them and the great leaders of our past. Those who were able to communicate complex ideas and fundamental truths about this country in compelling and accessible ways and deliver results when it mattered most. I’m disappointed to say far too many leaders aren’t living up to the time-honored traditions of American leadership. I felt compelled to get off the sidelines because this country thrives on people stepping into the arena – and we need good, commonsense, responsible, moral people to step forward now more than ever.
John F. Kennedy gave the graduation speech at the Naval Academy in 1961. I know a lot of it by heart. In it he says, “What you have chosen to do for your country, by devoting your life to the service of our country, is the greatest contribution that any man could make.” That sentiment inspires me and was one reason why I went to the Naval Academy. To this day it reflects my feelings about my arc of service now. Too many in public office seem to have forgotten that they’ve chosen a vocation – a life of service – not a career. I think it’s time we reunite public service with public office once again.
Fundamentally, people want to hear and have confidence that we still can achieve. Leadership is about inspiring people, walking the walk, and having the courage to make yourself uncomfortable. Candidly, that’s something that I’ve been doing in some shape or form most of my life. I want to help my family, neighbors, and community by stepping up in our time of need now.
What are the issues that you’re passionate about?
I’m very interested in the economy, how we innovate, and in providing opportunities for people to stand on their own productively and with dignity. My feelings are inspired by my background, with my mom working two jobs and many of my family who were products of skilled labor and industry that once boomed. Many of the issues we’ve seen in this country stem from structural economic change that has been unaddressed for decades.
Delaware County is a perfect example of this, especially in places like Chester. Chester used to be a center of industry. Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock, the Ford Plant, and Scott Paper, to name a few, employed tens of thousands who sustained families and communities through such opportunities. I firmly believe you shouldn’t need a four-year degree from a top-tier institution to thrive in the economy, give your children opportunities, or to survive financially as a family.
Increasing inflation, supply chain shortages, high gas prices, and economic dislocation are being felt like they’ve never been felt before. That is primarily due to the fact that far too many people were on unsteady economic footing even before these issues started in 2021. Our economic vulnerabilities are now much more apparent than they’ve ever been, and addressing them is my top priority.
Education is another big one for me: creating opportunities through educational optionality. Skilled labor, the trades, advanced manufacturing, and new ways we can prepare people for the modern economy are all pieces of the puzzle we must put together. European countries like Germany and Switzerland use secondary education in different industries and apprenticeships very well. You can work at a machine tooling plant two days a week and draw a salary as a student. You have a guaranteed job when you graduate from high school. Thinking outside the box in ways like this is something I’m very passionate about.
Generally speaking, standing up for our interests and mobilizing ourselves to address the challenges of the 21st century are extremely important to me, especially in light of my deployments abroad and my military experience. It’s very easy to forget that the world is not a safe place. Between the rise of China and what’s going on with Russia and Ukraine, it’s clear our foes are ready and eager to challenge us. The U.S. is unique in the world and we need to be prepared to stand up for our interests under threat.
What do you do with your free time, David?
My wife and I are both busy with work – her at Episcopal Academy and me with the campaign. Still, we walk our dogs, Kevin and Petunia, together daily. We hike and work out together too. I have a rowing machine at home and I work out at the Ellis Athletic Center in Newtown Square.
We do like to travel when we can. We got married in July 2018. I was deployed in October 2018. We went on a small honeymoon to Napa Valley in California before I left, with plans for a bigger trip to Italy later. That trip was canceled twice because of COVID, unfortunately.
We like to visit my wife’s grandparents in North Carolina and a friend of mine in the Coast Guard stationed in Cape Cod. We go down to Virginia Beach a lot, where I was stationed to see friends.
What book are you reading right now?
Right now, I’m reading a Winston Churchill biography. I just re-read Catch 22; I love that book.
What gives you hope, David?
My life and my story are one of hope. My mom lost my dad before I was even born. She’s told me time and again, “Life hasn’t always been fair to me, but life’s still a wonderful thing to live.” You have to live, have fun, and look for joy in life. You have to put yourself out there and be involved in your community. You have to take chances, get out of your comfort zone, and never stop looking for chances to lead. If you do that, you will find happiness.
Where do you find joy?
With family. Caroline and I are close to our loved ones and we spend a lot of time with them. We love to play games, take trips, and do a lot together as a family. Having spent so much time away from home during my time in the military, I really treasure the opportunity to see everyone, especially around the holidays.
Finally, David, What’s the best piece of advice you ever got?
My grandfather was a wealth of random one-liners. I wish I had written more of them down. He always used to tell me to “live slow.” I’ve always been high-energy and involved in many different things at once. Being a man of introspection and faith, he would tell me to take my foot off of the gas pedal once in a while to put things in perspective.
I find that advice very helpful given everything going on in mine and Caroline’s lives now. Everything moves at a fast pace. It helps to take a step back, take a break, and enjoy the little things. We try to set aside one day a week for “date night” and I do my best – with mixed success – to put my phone down and live in the moment with Caroline and the dogs for a bit each day. I know Pop is looking down and smiling when I do.
Publisher’s Note: Laura Wagoner contributed to this profile.