An Unusual Path to the Hill

Murphy Recalls Campaign, Service in Iraq

Posted February 15, 2008 at 4:54pm

While every Member of Congress brings unique experiences to the job, freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) is truly one of a kind: He is the only Member to have served in the Iraq War.

And as Democrats push for a change of course in Iraq, Murphy has become a point person in the argument.

Murphy’s book “Taking The Hill,” which hits bookstores today, follows his path to Congress, from his childhood in Philadelphia to a stint teaching law at West Point to his service in the sweltering heat of Iraq.

“I spend a lot of time on this, thinking about what I believe we need to do to keep us safe at home,” Murphy said in an interview. “I just felt this was an important story to be told — about my time in Iraq and what it was like to serve in 138-degree heat, in being shorthanded in terms of personnel and equipment, and what it’s like to run for Congress against all the odds and stand up to the Republican machine.”

Murphy served seven months in Baghdad in 2003 as a paratrooper and judge advocate general. He was responsible for prosecuting both American soldiers accused of wrongdoing and Iraqis. Murphy also trained Iraqi soldiers in military code and adjudicated more than 1,600 claims from Iraqi civilians seeking payment for American negligence.

His description of his time in Iraq backs the litany of criticisms Democrats have leveled against the war: Not enough troops were sent at the outset, soldiers lacked body armor, the Iraqi army shouldn’t have been disbanded (a move he refers to as “the worst mistake during a war that has become known for criminally negligent mistakes”), and Americans lost the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

[IMGCAP(1)]In his book, Murphy emphasizes that fair treatment of Iraqi civilians was a prime concern.

“We were making it less likely that an angry Iraqi would join the insurgency,” he writes. “So I was proud to pay claims I reasonably could.”

Murphy’s description of his time in Iraq became an issue in the nasty 2006 Congressional campaign in his suburban Philadelphia district.

The book recounts a press conference during which a veteran supporting Murphy’s opponent, then-freshman Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R), charged Murphy with “fundamentally mischaracterizing what his mission was” and “doing a disservice to the people over there” who performed more dangerous missions. And Fitzpatrick later ran an ad that questioned Murphy’s credentials as a prosecutor.

Murphy responded with vigor, calling Fitzpatrick a “liar and a coward for hiding behind these ads.”

“The book shows that I lived in an operating base that was mortared at night,” Murphy said in the interview. “For my opponent to hold a press conference questioning my service, I thought was beyond the pale. I thought I dealt with it appropriately. I called him a liar and a coward, and I felt it was an accurate charge.”

But Murphy said he intended for the book to keep a more hopeful tone, focusing on his service to the country and his successful campaign. He beat Fitzpatrick by 1,518 votes to become one of the youngest Members of Congress (he was 33 when sworn in).

Murphy added that his experiences in Iraq led him to sponsor the Iraq War De-escalation Act and support passage of laws increasing military pay and the budget for Veterans Affairs.

He also noted that he wrote the book in part to expose the government’s unfair treatment of veterans and the toll that war takes on families. He had an engagement broken off when his fiancee, a fellow soldier, began dating another man in the U.S. while Murphy was still in Iraq.

His story still ended happily — he met his future wife, Jenni, at the start of the campaign and the couple now has an 8-month-old daughter.

But not everyone is so fortunate, he said.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” Murphy said. “I wasn’t married and I didn’t have kids. Although my heart was broken, there were people who were married for 10, 15, 20 years, who the same thing happened to.”

Murphy dedicated his book to 19 soldiers from his unit who were killed in Iraq — men who, he writes, “deserved a government as honest and decent as they were.”

He said he still is in touch with men he served with in Iraq, and two of his closest friends were to be with him Monday night at his book-launch party in Philadelphia.

“I wear my 82nd Airborne lapel, not my Congressional lapel,” he said, “to remind me of why I got into politics.”