GRANGEVILLE – A familiar face in Idaho County for the past five years has taken on a new job title: Lucky Gallego is the Idaho County Veterans Service Officer.
The transition to this title seemed natural as Gallego is the director of the Idaho County Veterans Outreach and Community Center at 318 East Main Street. He will see veterans at that local location on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
However, the new job isn’t much of a stretch for the Marine Corps veteran who is on-hand on a daily basis to meet with veterans and community members.
“I want to give back. I have expertise and skills that I believe are valuable and I want to share them,” Gallego said.
He believes that the desire to help and be active and energized comes to him through his heritage.
Lucky Gallego was born in Fort Yuma, Ariz., where he grew up on the reservation.
“My traditional American Indian name is quite long, but ‘Lucky’ is the shortened version of it and what is on my birth certificate,” he said. He is Ute and Hopi.
He and his family later moved to rural Paramount, Calif., where his father worked for Anheuser-Busch.
He entered the Marine Corps directly after graduating high school in 1977. Throughout his next 22 years in the service, he worked in public relations, as a correspondent photographer, military police, in recon and combat. He was involved in the conflicts in Grenada, Beirut, El Salvador, and Desert Storm.
“I spent more time overseas than in the U.S.,” he recalled. He was also in Korea as well as in Washington, D.C., Maine, Florida, North Carolina, California, and Arizona, mostly for training sessions.
In 2001, he visited a brother in Jerome, Idaho, and fell in love with the state.
“It was calm – I could smell the hay and pine needles,” he smiled. “I was exploring, and I really did fall in love.”
He worked as a bean counter – literally – for the U.S. Department of Agricultural -- and then went on to work for a locomotive manufacturer in Boise for 15 years before retiring.
At an American Legion conference in 2015, he met Jinny Cash who bent his ear on an idea she had for a veterans center in Grangeville.
“She invited me to help get it off the ground, and in 2016, we opened this place,” he smiled.
“This place” is the center at 318 East Main that has become a popular spot, not only for veterans to meet, visit and have coffee and play cards but also a place for the community to eat at The Canteen Grill and hold events.
Gallego’s services are “100 percent volunteer,” at the center, he said. “I am here because I want to be because it’s important to me to be active, positive, upbeat and caring.”
Gallego is active in the local and state American Legion and the VFW and is a certified mental health first responder and veterans advocate. He also heads the local American Legion baseball program – a love he has fostered for many years.
“My father actually played for Cincinnati, and I played for a Triple-A farm team in Texas – but the Marine Corps called,” he smiled.
Gallego has one son, stationed in Japan as a member of the Marine Corps, and one granddaughter.
Gallego said the community and veterans center is “always looking for volunteers.”
“We can use people during mealtimes, especially, but really anytime,” he said. “Come talk to me and I will find you something to do.”
Gallego said every day when his feet hit the floor at 5:30 a.m., he is excited to get to the center.
“I love it,” he smiled. “It’s a great place to be.”
Back to his heritage: He credits his great-grandfather, grandfather and his father for their examples of being energized, active and people-persons, as well as his mother for her community-mindedness.
“Their actions, the way they conducted themselves, helped me become the person I am,” he said. “I am carrying that legacy forward – I want to make a difference.”
The center is open daily and Gallego will help veterans navigate through the VA benefits system, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., by appointment. Walk-ins are welcome as time allows. Call 208-507-2035. E-mail IDCOVeterans@idahocounty.org.