Paul Rieckhoff

Paul (P.J.) Rieckhoff is an American writer, social entrepreneur, advocate, activist and veteran of the United States Army and the Iraq War. He is the President of Righteous Media Inc and the host of the Angry Americans podcast. Prior to that, he was the founder, CEO and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA),[1] a non-partisan non-profit founded in 2004 with tens of thousands of members in all 50 US states. IAVA is America's first and largest Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans group. 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.

Paul Rieckhoff
BornNew York, US
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1998–2007
RankFirst Lieutenant
Unit3rd Infantry Division
Battles/warsIraq War


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 president of the student government.

Military service

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

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, he 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

In a talk at Johnson Chapel at Amherst College on August 31, 2009, 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]

Positions and critics

On veterans' issues

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 "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."

On Iraq War

Rieckhoff's book, Chasing Ghosts, is a scathing criticism of the Iraq War and President George Bush that was praised by most critics.[13]

On "Don't Ask Don't Tell"

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.[14]

On the film The Hurt Locker

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"[15] and appeared on PBS Newshour to state his position.[16]

On the film American Sniper

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."[17]

In 2015, Rieckhoff appeared on Comedy Central's The Nightly Show to defend American Sniper as an effective public awareness tool for veterans causes.[18]

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

After returning home from Iraq in 2004, Rieckhoff founded Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a nonpartisan organization for new veterans. IAVA has a recorded 300,000 veterans and civilian supporters nationwide and served over 800,000 post-9/11 veterans.[19]

Public life

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.[20]

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°, Real Time with Bill Maher, The Colbert Report and has 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 other publications. He was profiled by The Hill in June 2014 in a piece titled, "From the battles of Iraq to those of DC".[21]


Rieckhoff wrote a book describing his experiences in Iraq and activism afterwards entitled Chasing Ghosts (2006).[1][22] In 2006, Rieckhoff spoke to NPR's Fresh Air about the book.[23]


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.[24]

Awards, honors, and affiliations

Rieckhoff was inducted into the Global Ashoka Fellowship in 2010 as recognition of his innovation and entrepreneurship on behalf of new veterans.[25]

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."[26] He helped bring his former Iraqi translator, Esam Pacha (who was targeted for assassination, to the US.[27]

Named #37 of GQ's 50 Most Powerful People in D.C. in 2009,[28]

Rolling Stone named Rieckhoff to its list of "The Quiet Ones: 12 Leaders Who Get Things Done" [29]

In 2013, Rieckhoff was named to The Verge: 50: "people that changed our lives" alongside leaders like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Marissa Mayer.[30]

Rieckhoff was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Amherst College in 2013.[31]

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."[32]

In 2014, Rieckhoff was awarded a "Teddy Award" by Time Magazine for his courage in demanding VA reform throughout years of scandal. Later the same year, Task and Purpose named Rieckhoff to "The Mighty 25: Veterans Poised to Make a Difference in 2015".[33]


  1. "Iava Staff & Board". Archived from the original on March 30, 2012. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
  2. "Paul Rieckhoff". Amazon. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
  3. "Paul Rieckhoff". Huffington Post. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
  4. "National Guard - Interactive Exhibit: 9/11 Tribute Center". Archived from the original on August 23, 2016. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  5. "Army Commendation Medal, Paul Rieckhoff". January 28, 2004. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  6. "IAVA Successfully Shepherds New GI Bill Victory". Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  7. "Paul Rieckhoff". October 31, 2011. Archived from the original on January 12, 2017. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  8. "Tenacity wins veterans much-needed help for suicide prevention". Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  9. "Fifty Things To Do Before You Leave Amherst". September 3, 2009 via YouTube.
  10. "Fifty Tips for the Next Greatest Generation - Amherst College". Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  11. Jaffe, Greg (May 26, 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". Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  13. Massing, Michael (December 20, 2007). "Iraq: The Hidden Human Costs". The New York Review of Books.
  14. "Broken Senate Delays Military Sexual Assault Reform". Huffington Post. November 22, 2013.
  15. "Veterans: Why 'The Hurt Locker' Isn't Reality". February 24, 2010. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  16. "Rieckhoff discusses The Hurt Locker". IraqNewsVids. March 4, 2010 via YouTube.
  17. Rieckhoff, Paul (January 16, 2015). "A Veteran's View of 'American Sniper' (Guest Column)". Variety. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  18. "Panel - "American Sniper" Debate-The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore - Video Clip". Comedy Central. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  19. "About Us » Iraq And Afghanistan Veterans Of America". Retrieved 2017-07-14.
  20. Klein, Joe (August 29, 2011). "The New Greatest Generation". TIME. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  21. Wong, Kristina (June 17, 2014). "From the battles of Iraq to those of DC".
  22. "Chasing Ghosts". Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  23. "Iraq Veteran Writes About 'A Soldier's Fight'". Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  24. "Paul Rieckhoff". IMDb. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  25. "Ashoka Fellows - Paul Rieckhoff". 2010. Archived from the original on July 6, 2010. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  26. "The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies". Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  27. "Leaving Friends to Die: Abandoning Our Iraqi Interpreters". Huffington Post. October 3, 2007. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  28. Robert Draper; Sarah Goldstein; W.S. Hylton; Mark Kirby; Raha Naddaf; Tory Newmyer; Greg Veis (November 2009). "The 50 Most Powerful People in DC". Retrieved May 12, 2011.
  29. "The Quiet Ones: 12 Leaders Who Get Things Done". Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  30. "Paul Rieckhoff - The Verge 50". Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  31. "Paul Rieckhoff '98 - Amherst College". Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  32. Ruyle, Megan (October 22, 2014). "Top Lobbyists 2014: Grassroots". Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  33. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-12-30. Retrieved 2014-12-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Press and published works

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