Rep. Mike Garcia likes to keep a picture of his old office on the wall of his current office. An F-18 Super Hornet in flight streams across an orange sky.
Before he became a congressman in a special election last year, the California Republican flew jets over Iraq. He carried his combat memories from 2003 over into his campaign — and even borrowed heavily from the 1986 movie “Top Gun” for his stars-and-stripes logo.
“We never played volleyball with our shirts off together in jeans,” but otherwise, the movie pretty much nailed it, Garcia said in an interview earlier this summer.
He talked with CQ Roll Call about UFO sightings, his “old-school camcorder” and what it’s like to serve in Congress with a former wingman.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: How would you compare being on an aircraft carrier to being in Congress?
A: Remarkably dissimilar environments. But the common denominator is that you really have to be patient and professional. You’ve got to remain cool under fire. When I was an F-18 pilot, the U.S. government entrusted me to fly an $80 million aircraft that could carry up to 20,000 pounds of ordnance during combat operations and to do so off an aircraft carrier at night. And in this new job, 740,000 Americans have put their trust in me to represent them, even though they may not all agree with my political opinions.
Q: What meal do you most like to make with your family?
A: We’re a big breakfast burrito kind of family. I’ve got two boys, a 14-year-old and a 4-year-old, and my 4-year-old can make a mean scrambled egg right now. That’s our bonding time. That being said, I’m a carnivore, and I love my ribs, I love my barbecue. I like to do it low and slow outside.
Q: You were on the Nimitz aircraft carrier a couple of years before cameras came to film the PBS documentary series “Carrier.” Did you ever watch it?
A: Yeah, I did watch it. It was pretty interesting to see all the personalities — a lot of the folks they interviewed I knew personally.
When we were in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, I actually carried an old-school camcorder with me on all my flights. I got a lot of great flying video. We ended up building what’s called a cruise video — we put it on DVD and it’s about 20 minutes long, but that’s the artifact our sailors and our troops have from that deployment. That’s something they can show their kids and their grandkids.
So these documentaries do the same thing. When you watch them, you miss the good old days. Living on an aircraft carrier for nine months wasn’t fun, but the flying was just absolutely awesome.
Q: Some people on the Nimitz reported UFO sightings, we learned in recent years. What about you? Did you ever see a UFO?
A: I never saw one myself, but I was airborne when the 2004 incident happened. It was about 100 miles or so away from me, so I heard a lot of the communications going on. It was one of those things that you couldn’t believe it when you heard it. The guys who actually saw it weren’t allowed to talk about it until just recently, so we couldn’t even ask questions.
I’m intrigued by it. I don’t know that it’s extraterrestrial — I do believe it’s man-made. And I’m not going to presuppose where it comes from, but I hope it’s American-made. It goes to show that we’ve got to continue to invest in our military technologies and not take it for granted that we are the only superpower out there. We have peer threats out there nowadays, not just near-peer threats. China and Russia have advanced capabilities that we don’t even know about.
I do think it would be an amazing coincidence if we were the only life forms in this universe. That’s why we’ve got to invest in space programs to start answering some of these questions we all have and maybe one day see the extension of God’s creations on other planets.
Q: Your campaign logo looked a lot like “Top Gun.” What does the movie get right and wrong about being a naval aviator?
A: It’s one of my favorite movies, obviously. What they get right is the camaraderie, the personalities of the pilots. That’s something I miss the most — we were like brothers, very competitive. We were hard on each other, but that made us stronger.
We never played volleyball with our shirts off together in jeans. So that’s probably my least favorite part of the movie. And some of the flying scenes were a little ridiculous, but they did use real jets, the sexy F-14. The “Top Gun” sequel is coming out soon, and they use my aircraft in that movie, the F-18 Super Hornet.
Speaking of camaraderie, one of my best friends in the Navy — we were in the same squadron, the Tophatter Squadron — his name is Jake Ellzey. He was just elected to Congress in a special election. It’s just a cool thing to think about, the two of us serving side by side as loyal wingmen again in the halls of Congress.
Last book read? “Founding Brothers” by Joseph Ellis.
Can the ends justify the means in politics? I don’t believe so. In my opinion, the means actually are the ends. Adhering to the Constitution, adhering to due diligence and processes, that is the end goal. It’s about protecting the United States of America to make sure the nation survives, not just decades and centuries but for thousands of years. But don’t confuse that with not being willing to fight. I will literally make anyone’s life hell who determines they’re going to go against the grain of the Constitution.
Least popular opinion? I’m trying to get my 14-year-old to cut his hair. We’re getting there.
Closest friend across the aisle? I didn’t come here to make friends. But I do really respect and like Salud Carbajal. He represents the district just to the west and north of me, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo area. He’s a veteran himself. He and I have worked together on a reciprocity bill to help military spouses get accredited — if they’re a real estate agent, for example, they wouldn’t have to get requalified every time their spouse got orders to a new state.
America’s best president? Ronald Reagan.