Paul Rieckhoff

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Paul Rieckhoff
Nickname(s) P.J.
Born New York, USA
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1998 - 2007
Rank First Lieutenant
Unit 3rd Infantry Division
Battles/wars Iraq War

Paul Rieckhoff is an American writer, social entrepreneur, advocate, activist and veteran of the United States Army and the Iraq War. He is the Founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).[1] He served as an Army First Lieutenant and infantry rifle platoon leader in Iraq from 2003 through 2004.[1] Rieckhoff was released from the Army National Guard in 2007.


Rieckhoff attended James I. O'Neill High School in Highland Falls, New York and graduated from Amherst College in 1998 with a BA in Political Science.[1] At Amherst, Rieckhoff was a varsity football and rugby player. He hosted a radio show on the college radio station, WAMH-FM and was also President of the student government.

Military service[edit]

Rieckhoff enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve on September 15, 1998 and completed Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training at Fort McClellan, Alabama.[2] He then served in the U.S. Army Reserve, as a specialist with the 812th Military Police Company. While working on Wall Street in 1999, Rieckhoff transferred to the New York Army National Guard. He graduated from Officer Candidate School in June 2001 and was named a Distinguished Military Graduate. Rieckhoff selected infantry as his branch and joined A Company, 1-105th Infantry (Light).

Rieckhoff left Wall Street on September 7, 2001 with plans to travel and complete additional military schooling. On the morning of September 11, Rieckhoff was at his apartment in Manhattan when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. He participated in the rescue efforts at ground zero.[3] His unit was formally activated for rescue and security operations later that evening.

Rieckhoff recounted his 9/11 experiences for the 9/11 Tribute Center for a project called "Stories of 9/11 told by those who were there"[4]

In 2002, Rieckhoff volunteered for the invasion of Iraq. In January of that year, he was on a plane to join the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Rieckhoff was then assigned as a platoon leader in the 3-124th Infantry (Air Assault) of the Florida Army National Guard. The unit was attached to 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division and spent almost a year conducting combat operations in Baghdad, Iraq. Third Platoon conducted over 1,000 dismounted and mounted combat patrols. All thirty-eight of the men in Rieckhoff's platoon returned home alive.

Rieckhoff was awarded a United States Army Commendation Medal for his service in Iraq.[5]

Legislative victories[edit]

In 2008, Rieckhoff and IAVA led the passage of the "Post-9/11 (New) GI Bill." Despite surprising opposition, IAVA ensured the bill's passage—which has now successfully supported the education of over one million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.[6] On February 7. 2007, Rieckhoff testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee to advocate for passage of the bill.[7]

On February 13, 2014, under Rieckhoff's leadership, IAVA led the creation, passage and signing into law of the historic Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for America's Veterans (SAV) Act. The law was named after Marine CPL Clay Hunt, a sniper, IAVA member and personal friend of Rieckhoff and other IAVA leaders. Rieckhoff stood on stage with President Obama, Clay's mother, Susan and other national leaders for a signing ceremony at the White House.[8]

Notable speeches[edit]

In a talk at Johnson Chapel Aug. 31, Paul Rieckhoff offered first-year and transfer students his take on 50 things to do before graduating at the annual DeMott Lecture. Among them: write, write, beat Williams and learn about President John F. Kennedy's Amherst speech—delivered just days before his assassination.[9][10]

Controversial positions & Rieckhoff's critics[edit]

On Veterans' Issues[edit]

Rieckhoff has been an outspoken leader for veterans who has frequently challenged Presidents, political leaders, and particularly former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.[11] The Washington Post, in a profile of Rieckhoff's battle with Shinseki wrote, "Younger veterans groups have adopted many of the lessons of today’s fast-moving, hyper-partisan political campaigns to raise the pressure on Shinseki and the VA. Vietnam War veterans are looking for answers about the alleged cover-up of a backlog at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix. No group exemplifies this shift more clearly than Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which is based in New York and has about 270,000 members who have signed up for its e-mail list. IAVA’s 45-person staff — most of them younger than 30 — is small compared to the larger, more established veterans organizations. Like the traditional veterans groups, IAVA is nonpartisan. But the group and its founder, Paul Rieckhoff, 39, have been a relentless presence on Capitol Hill, online and in the national media, criticizing Shinseki’s leadership of the department. “IAVA is packed with a bunch of digital natives,” said Phil Carter, who studies veterans’ issues for the Center for a New American Security. “That affects the speed that they can get out a critical message and the uptake that their message gets from the media.”

In 2012, Stars and Stripes wrote an article titled, "IAVA attracts the spotlight – and detractors." [12] "IAVA representatives are frequent cable news guests and regulars at hearings on Capitol Hill, where few if any veterans initiatives are passed without their blessing. They’re advertising stars, thanks to donated public service spots and a partnership with Miller High Life. IAVA events drew crowds at the Super Bowl and this year’s presidential political conventions, among dozens of other high-profile events. In just eight years, IAVA has transformed itself from an upstart veterans organization to a lobbying heavyweight and media favorite. For many Americans not connected to the military, they’ve become the face not just of the current combat generation but of all veterans.That infuriates their critics, who see IAVA as a small, unrepresentative sample of returning war heroes, a veterans group with an uncharacteristic liberal bent and a business model that emphasizes online communities over traditional outreach.They’re too loud. They take too much credit. They’re unwilling to wait for change. They’re too convinced that their unconventional strategies and overly aggressive approach are more helpful than what other advocates — and the Department of Veterans Affairs — are offering."

The military blog This Ain't Hell, which prides itself on criticizing Rieckhoff, published a 2004 Amherst Magazine interview of Rieckhoff which included a photograph of him in uniform erroneously wearing a Bronze Star Medal and a United States Army Special Forces unit patch.[13] According to Stars and Stripes, in response to the allegation that he wore a medal he had not been awarded, Rieckhoff "defended the medal as a paperwork mistake" and explained that he "bought his Bronze Star after being told he had earned the medal, but hasn't worn it since that interview." Concerning the allegation that Rieckhoff had worn a Special Forces unit patch without ever having served in a Special Forces unit, Stars and Stripes noted that Rieckhoff "blames the Special Forces patch on bad timing and enthusiasm.[14]" The article states that "[h]e sewed on the patch days after receiving an assignment to the unit, but pulled it off a few weeks later when that assignment changed."

On Iraq War[edit]

Rieckhoff's book, Chasing Ghosts, is a scathing criticism of the Iraq War and President George Bush that was praised by most critics.[15]

On Don't Ask Don't Tell[edit]

He has been a vocal advocate for gay rights and the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell—and reform of the military's sexual assault policies.[16]

On the film The Hurt Locker[edit]

Rieckhoff was a vocal critic of the film, The Hurt Locker, posting a piece in Newsweek, titled "Veterans: Why 'The Hurt Locker' Isn't Reality"[17] and appearing on PBS Newshour to state his position.[18]

On the film American Sniper[edit]

Rieckhoff was a strong supporter of the controversial film, American Sniper, writing a review for Variety stating, “'American Sniper' is the single best work of film about the Iraq War ever made."[19] In 2015, Rieckhoff appeared on Comedy Central's The Nightly Show to defend American Sniper as an effective public awareness tool for veterans causes.[20]

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America[edit]

After returning home from Iraq in 2004, Rieckhoff founded Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a nonpartisan organization for new veterans.

Founded in 2004 by an Iraq veteran at a time when there were little to no resources available for post-9/11 vets, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has quickly become the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing new veterans and their families.

With a recorded 300,000 veterans and civilian supporters nationwide over the last decade, IAVA had become the leading advocate for its community and served over 800,000 post-9/11 veterans. IAVA has pioneered historic changes, like the Post-9/11 GI Bill, VA funding reforms, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, and more. IAVA is now leading the charge on combating veteran suicide, improving support for female veterans, ending the VA disability claims backlog, and defending veterans’ education benefits.

Public Life[edit]

Rieckhoff is a nationally-recognized and known authority on the new veteran community and policy. He regularly testifies before Congress on issues facing the veterans' community and writes regularly for national websites and publications. In August 2011, Rieckhoff and four other IAVA Member Veterans appeared on the cover of TIME magazine for a feature about Iraq and Afghanistan veterans being leaders of the New Greatest Generation.[21]

Rieckhoff has appeared on many television and radio programs including “Meet the Press”, The Charlie Rose Show, NBC Nightly News, World News With Charles Gibson, The Early Show, Tavis Smiley, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Anderson Cooper 360°, The Rachel Maddow Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, The Colbert Report and The Henry Rollins Show. He has also written articles and opinion columns for The New York Times, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, and many more publications.

He was profiled by The Hill in June 2014 in a piece titled, "From the battles of Iraq to those of DC"[22]


Rieckhoff wrote a book describing his experiences in Iraq and activism afterwards entitled Chasing Ghosts (2006).[1] NPR described it in a review: "The true story of the first soldier to challenge the war in Iraq provides a grunt's-eye view of the battles on the streets of Baghdad, and a patriot's vision of where America has gone wrong and how it can reset its path. As an infantry platoon leader, Rieckhoff was proud to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. He and his soldiers spent almost a year in one of the most dangerous and volatile areas of Baghdad—and what they encountered there was chaos: not enough troops, no humanitarian aid, no body armor, no radios, and no real plan. He saw what happened when we tried to conduct a war on the cheap. What followed, over the next ten months, set him on a course that would forever change his life. When he finally came home, Rieckhoff vowed to tell Americans the truth. —From publisher description. A veteran of the war in Iraq provides an infantry soldier's view of the war and the challenges confronting the American military in the field due to poor planning, lack of accountability and preparedness, inadequate protection, and other problems."[23]

In 2006, Rieckhoff spoke to NPR's Fresh Air about the book.[24]


Rieckhoff has produced four documentary films (Warrior Champions, Reserved to Fight, Jerebek and When I Came Home) and acted in "The Green Zone" starring Matt Damon.[25]

Awards and affiliations[edit]

Rieckhoff was inducted into the Global Ashoka Fellowship in 2010 as recognition of his innovation and entrepreneurship on behalf of new veterans.[26] Rieckhoff is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Rieckhoff is an advocate for Iraqi and Afghan refugees and interpreters, and an advisory board member of The List Project, "a non-profit operating in the U.S., founded with the belief that the United States Government has a clear and urgent moral obligation to resettle to safety Iraqis who are imperiled due to their affiliation with the United States of America." [27] He helped bring his former Iraqi translator, Esam Pacha (who was targeted for assassination, to the US.[28] Pacha is now a thriving artist living in Connecticut.[29]

Named #37 of GQ’s "50 Most Powerful People in D.C.]" in 2009,[30] Rieckhoff has been honored with the Common Ground “Celebrating Home Award” and the Generation Engage “Lewis Cullman Civic Engagement Award” for his leadership in the service community. In 2004, he was also honored by Esquire magazine as one of “America’s Best and Brightest.”

Rolling Stone named Rieckhoff to its list of "The Quiet Ones: 12 Leaders Who Get Things Done" [31] Rolling Stone wrote, "A former first lieutenant who served a tour of duty in Iraq, Rieckhoff launched the nation's largest advocacy group for veterans of Bush's two wars. This fall, he used his lobbying clout to spearhead the near-unanimous passage of the Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act. The new law addresses the staggeringly high unemployment rate for returning veterans by providing businesses with a tax credit of up to $9,600 for each vet hired. The law also expands funding for education and vocational training for all veterans, including those from past wars. Rieckhoff's advocacy was also essential in securing passage of the New GI Bill under Bush in 2008, and its expansion under Obama in 2010."

Penthouse Magazine listed Paul Rieckhoff on their 2009 Annual Badass List.

In 2013, Rieckhoff was named to "The Verge: 50" "people that changed our lives" alongside leaders like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Marissa Mayer.[32]

The David Lynch Foundation awarded Rieckhoff with their 2011 Resilient Warrior Award at a star-studded event in Los Angeles featuring Russell Brand, Ellen DeGeneres and Russell Simmons.

Rieckhoff was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Amherst College in 2013.[33]

The Hill named Rieckhoff to its "Top Lobbyists 2014: Grassroots" list for the second year in a row, adding, "The Iraq veterans organization played a leading role on passing a Department of Veterans Affairs reform bill this year, and will continue to be a big player on its implementation, among other veterans issues."[34] In 2013, writing "Rieckhoff champions legislation to help veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars deal with brain trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder."[35]

In 2014, Rieckhoff was awarded a "Teddy Award" by TIME Magazine for his political courage in demanding VA reform throughout years of scandal. "Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has been an edgy, controversial figure in recent years, a creative critic of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The revelation of widespread corruption and incompetence in the VA, and the dismissal of Secretary Eric Shinseki, proved the value of Rieckhoff’s persistence. His willingness to take flak for his brothers and sisters in arms merits a Teddy."

In December 2014, Task and Purpose named Rieckhoff to "The Mighty 25: Veterans Poised to Make a Difference in 2015".[36] "Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America marked a decade of existence in 2014, and the organization is showing no signs of slowing down going into next year. Under the leadership of the well-networked and media-savvy founder Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA championed the Clay Hunt SAV Act – legislation designed to combat the veteran suicide rate – at the end of the year, although the bill’s passage was singularly impeded by Sen. Tom Coburn."


  1. ^ a b c d "Iava Staff & Board". Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  2. ^ "Paul Rieckhoff". Amazon. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  3. ^ "Paul Rieckhoff". Huffington Post. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  4. ^ "National Guard - Interactive Exhibit - 9/11 Tribute Center". 
  5. ^ "Army Commendation Medal, Paul Rieckhoff". January 28, 2004. Retrieved July 29, 2012. 
  6. ^ "IAVA Successfully Shepherds New GI Bill Victory". 
  7. ^ "Paul Rieckhoff". 31 October 2011. 
  8. ^ "Tenacity wins veterans much-needed help for suicide prevention". 
  9. ^ AmherstCollege (3 September 2009). "Fifty Things To Do Before You Leave Amherst" – via YouTube. 
  10. ^ "Fifty Tips for the Next Greatest Generation - Amherst College". 
  11. ^ Jaffe, Greg (26 May 2014). "In VA crisis, old general's deliberate style clashes with impatience of young veterans". The Washington Post. 
  12. ^ "IAVA attracts the spotlight – and detractors". 
  13. ^ ""Stars and Stripes: IAVA attracts the spotlight – and detractors"". 
  14. ^ "Stars and Stripes: IAVA attracts the spotlight – and detractors". 
  15. ^ Massing, Michael (20 December 2007). "Iraq: The Hidden Human Costs" – via The New York Review of Books. 
  16. ^ "Broken Senate Delays Military Sexual Assault Reform". Huffington Post. 22 November 2013. 
  17. ^ "Veterans: Why 'The Hurt Locker' Isn't Reality". 24 February 2010. 
  18. ^ IraqNewsVids (4 March 2010). "Rieckhoff discusses 'The Hurt Locker'" – via YouTube. 
  19. ^ Rieckhoff, Paul (16 January 2015). "A Veteran's View of 'American Sniper' (Guest Column)". Variety. 
  20. ^ "Panel - "American Sniper" Debate-The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore - Video Clip - Comedy Central". 
  21. ^ Klein, Joe (August 29, 2011). "The New Greatest Generation". TIME. Retrieved 2 August 2012. 
  22. ^ Wong, Kristina (17 June 2014). "From the battles of Iraq to those of DC". 
  23. ^ "Chasing Ghosts". 
  24. ^ "Iraq Veteran Writes About 'A Soldier's Fight'". 
  25. ^ "Paul Rieckhoff". IMDB. 
  26. ^ "Ashoka Fellows - Paul Rieckhoff". 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  27. ^ "Advisory Board «  The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies". 
  28. ^ "Leaving Friends to Die: Abandoning Our Iraqi Interpreters". Huffington Post. 3 October 2007. 
  29. ^
  30. ^ Robert Draper, Sarah Goldstein, Wil S. Hylton, Mark Kirby, Raha Naddaf, Tory Newmyer, and Greg Veis (November 2009). "The 50 Most Powerful People in D.C". Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  31. ^ "The Quiet Ones: 12 Leaders Who Get Things Done". 
  32. ^ "Paul Rieckhoff - The Verge 50". 
  33. ^ "Paul Rieckhoff '98 - Amherst College". 
  34. ^ Ruyle, Megan (22 October 2014). "Top Lobbyists 2014: Grassroots". 
  35. ^ Perks, Ashley (30 October 2013). "Top Lobbyists 2013". 
  36. ^

Press & Published Works[edit]

External links[edit]