Paul Rieckhoff

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Paul Rieckhoff is the executive director and founder of Operation Truth, which he created in June 2004 "with a cell phone and a few loyal supporters," and executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

Background

Rieckhoff "served in the rescue operations after 9/11" and is a veteran of the war in Iraq, where, as a Florida Army National Guard 1st Lieutenant, he served in the 3rd Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions as a platoon leader "primarily conducting combat patrols in central Baghdad" between April 2003 and February 2004. [1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

Although frequently identified as being against the war in Iraq, and his organization Operation Truth as being "anti-war", Rieckhoff states that he is speaking out about the war, not against it.

Operation Truth, says Rieckhoff, "wants to end stop-loss policies, improve support programs for families of deployed troops, get more counseling for the wounded and address problems created by battlefield contractors." During the U.S. presidential election, 2004, "Operation Truth leaders also expressed concern that the media and presidential candidates" were obsessed with the Vietnam-era service of both President George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Senator John F. Kerry. "As a result," they said, "today’s troops are being all but ignored." [8]

"Though soldiers of all types have complained about equipment in Iraq, part-timers in the National Guard and Reserve say that they have a particular disadvantage because they start off with outdated or insufficient gear. They have been deployed with faulty radios, unreliable trucks and, most alarmingly for many, a shortage of soundly armored vehicles in a land regularly convulsed by roadside attacks, according to soldiers, relatives and outside military experts." New York Times, October 30, 2004.

"Reserve and Guardsmen are hard hit by a weak national support system for families and little in the way of help transitioning back [to] civilian life after extended deployments other than, in Rieckhoff’s words, 'a twenty-minute ‘Don’t beat your wife’ lecture.'" [9]

"'We're not speaking out against the war, ... We're speaking out about the war.'" August 2004.

Founding Operation Truth

"National Guardsman Paul Rieckhoff, who came home in February [2003], kept hearing from guys in his unit who had suffered injuries over the course of a year of combat and were fighting to get adequate medical treatment, disability pay or benefits from the Army. So the fiery, articulate lieutenant founded Operation Truth, to help his fellow servicemen and to educate the public. Rieckhoff – who is still on active duty and could be sent back to Iraq – is appalled at the shoddy treatment that wounded veterans are receiving from their government, especially National Guardsmen and reservists.

"'You come home and you have to deal with the nightmare that is the Army’s bureaucracy,' Rieckhoff says. 'They’ve got to battle, bite, beg and steal to get taken care of or even to get looked at by the VA. And that’s just unconscionable.'" October 2004.

Rieckhoff: "A Trojan Jackass for the Anti-War Movement"

Socialist writer, speaker, consultant Stan Goff -- also a former member of the Special Forces who retired in 1996 -- wrote in his scathing April 5, 2005, CounterPunch article "A Trojan Jackass for the Anti-War Movement":

"Anyone who cares to search Rieckhoff's Operation Truth website, by the way, hungry for a single statement opposing either the invasion or occupation of Iraq will go home with an empty stomach. That's because it is not an antiwar NGO. It is criticizing the conduct of the war and the actions of the Republican administration on veterans benefits in a way calculated to bewilder people into believing it is an ally of the antiwar movement.

"So here's my message to Rieckhoff. We got your number. Go home to your imperial buddies."

Take It to Washington

Dennis Rogers, on the other hand, writing March 19, 2005, for The News & Observer Publishing Company, agrees with Rieckhoff that "'Rallying against the war by marching at Fort Bragg is like protesting the cows if you don't like McDonald's.'" [10]

"Here we go again," Rogers wrote. "Today is the second anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. To mark the occasion, anti-war groups are gathering in Fayetteville today -- by the busload, they say -- to protest the war.

"They have that right. Their freedom to gather and speak their minds has been bought and paid for by generations of military men and women who have served, sacrificed and died in service to the country.

"But to protest in Fayetteville seems at best insensitive and at worst a slap in the face of the troops at Fort Bragg and their families. They have suffered enough without people in their own hometown marching, singing and chanting against a war in which soldiers have no choice but to serve.

"It seems to me that if you wanted to stop the war, you'd take your message to the people who could do something about it. They are not at Fort Bragg."

Post-Combat Problems

"'In the urban terrain, the enemy is everywhere, across the street, in that window, up that alley,' said Paul Rieckhoff, who served as a platoon leader with the Florida Army National Guard for 10 months, going on hundreds of combat patrols around Baghdad. 'It's a fishbowl. You never feel safe. You never relax.'

"In his platoon of 38 people, 8 were divorced while in Iraq or since they returned in February, Mr. Rieckhoff said. One man in his 120-person company killed himself after coming home.

"'Too many guys are drinking,' said Mr. Rieckhoff, who started the group Operation Truth to support the troops. 'A lot have a hard time finding a job. I think the system is vastly under-prepared for the flood of mental health problems.'" December 17, 2004.

"Take Back America" Conference, June 3, 2004

"Meanwhile, Iraq war veteran Paul Rieckhoff, a lieutenant in the Florida National Guard, told the Take Back America conference in Washington June 3 that a mood of anger is growing among the 135,000 soldiers as their tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan are extended by a year or longer.

"'The soldiers are stretched so thin,' he said, 'they are bringing in private contractors,' mercenaries paid as much as $200,000 a year while active duty U.S. soldiers receive $40,000 in annual pay. Rieckhoff commanded a 38-member platoon in Baghdad in a 13-month deployment before his unit was relieved last February.

"Rieckhoff delivered the Democratic Party’s response to Bush’s news conference last month in which the president vowed to 'stay the course' in Iraq. Rieckhoff debunked Bush’s Mission Accomplished slogan, charging that Bush has no plans to bring U.S. troops home from that quagmire.

"'We were told we would return home by July 4,' Rieckhoff said. 'But three days before we were supposed to leave, we were told our tour in Iraq would be extended indefinitely.' The GI death toll has risen to over 800.

"Rieckhoff has set up a new committee called “Operation Truth” to expose the deceptions of the Bush administration. “Other soldiers are getting involved,” he said. 'I want my fellow soldiers to come home safely. There has to be a plan to bring them home.'

"Security in Iraq must be turned over to the Iraqis, he said. 'The policy makers in Washington are using the military to solve a problem for which there is no military solution. We need a phased withdrawal.'" [11]

"Mission Accomplished" Democratic Radio Address, May 1, 2004

  • In a Democratic Radio Address to the Nation on May 1, 2004, Lt. Paul Rieckhoff made a rebuttal to President George W. Bush's "woefully-inaccurate" "mission accomplished" speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. [12][13][14]
  • "'I’m not a war activist. I’m an activist for soldiers’ issues.' That’s why a New York National Guard officer said he jumped at the chance to give the Democratic Party’s response to President Bush’s weekly radio address May 1.
"'I was using the Democrats’ forum,' Lt. Paul Rieckhoff, an Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veteran, told Army Times," May 6, 2004.
"'They used me — but I used them. I wasn’t going to give up that opportunity. It was a chance for an ordinary guy to speak on that national stage.'" [15]
  • "Rieckhoff said he is not working for the Kerry campaign or for the Democratic Party. He contacted Kerry staffers who deal with veterans issues when he returned from Iraq three months ago, and they 'provided me with the forum. I wrote every word.'" [16]
  • In the May 7, 2004, New York Times, the paper printed a correction to a previous article about Rieckhoff, in which it "misstated his political affiliation. He says that although he indeed once registered as a Democrat, he is now unaffiliated." [17]

A Response to the Radio Address

Tony Snow wrote May 4, 2004, in the Jewish World Review: "While we’re talking about poseurs, what about 1st Lt. Paul Rieckhoff? Rieckhoff delivered last weekend’s Democratic response to the president’s radio address – an address quickly posted on the John Kerry website. If Rieckhoff doesn’t have Kerryesque political ambitions, I’ll be stunned. Upon returning home from a ten-month stint in Iraq, he quickly contacted his alma mater, Amherst College (where he was the 1998 student body president and where he delivered a speech last month), CBS (which featured him on 60 Minutes), and the Kerry campaign (which helped sign him up for the radio address.) I have no doubt the lieutenant has expressed frustrations of soldiers, who don’t like getting shorted on basic supplies. The problem with this radio address, which Rieckhoff says he wrote himself, is that it copies almost verbatim from the Kerry and Democratic-party scripts.

"He complains about the president’s May 1, 2003 speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, claiming falsely that the president had declared, 'Mission Accomplished!' While the president seemed naively confident about the future, he also noted, 'We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We’re bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous…. The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done.' ... More to the point, he never used the words, 'Mission Accomplished.' That banner was hung on the Lincoln in tribute to the fact that its mission – which included having to stay several extra months in the Gulf region – had been accomplished.

"The lieutenant also repeats Kerry’s kvetch about the lack of bulletproof vests (due not to presidential negligence, but to the fact that manufacturers just can’t produce them quickly enough). At any rate, Rieckhoff is right about one thing: The mission isn’t accomplished yet. Let’s hope he supports its ultimate accomplishment." [18]

Crossing the Military-Political Line

Following his radio address, "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who usually has an unerring sense of healthy civil-military relations, thought Rieckhoff had crossed 'a clear line between civilian and military in America, as far as politics is concerned.'

"McCain is a little late," wrote Diane H. Mazur, "a professor of law at the University of Florida and a former aircraft and munitions maintenance officer in the U.S. Air Force," on May 5, 2004.

"That line has already been obliterated. The only reason Rieckhoff attracted attention was because he wasn't following the military's party line. No one would have looked twice if he publicly supported our current efforts. Rieckhoff is just the latest addition to a presidential campaign already rife with dueling military voices." [19]

60 Minutes II, October 1, 2003

"Lt. Paul Rieckhoff walks a narrow line in Zone 17. The night before 60 Minutes II showed up, a bomb just missed a Humvee that shook the whole compound. The Army calls them IEDs, or Improvised Explosive Devices.

"'I think there’s a small percentage of people here who don’t want us here, but I think by in large, most of the people here, as you’ll see on this patrol, are welcoming of our presence,' says Rieckhoff.

"But by the next day, kids trailed his patrol down the block. Rieckhoff’s men fixed up a stadium that was once an Iraqi army shooting range, and the community relations is paying off. The neighbors are now telling his patrols about hidden weapons and guerillas."

Rieckhoff said "'I don’t think the American public understands that there’s much more going on here besides IED attacks. Those are horrible and we all mourn the loss of life. But every day there’s an incredible amount of stuff going that doesn’t get reported because it’s not sensational. The fact that school supplies are delivered or there are hospitals open - that stuff is incredibly important for every member of this local community.'

"What does Rieckhoff now think of the war?

"'I think we’ve made incredible strides. This is the hard part. This is the road nobody has gone down before and the U.S. is breaking some new ground here,' says Rieckhoff. 'It’s going to be a difficult struggle. Germany wasn’t repaired in four months. Japan wasn’t repaired in four months. It’s gonna take time to reestablish this entire government, this entire country. But i think it has enormous potential. And i think the sky’s the limit for the people of Iraq.'" [20]

  • When asked about the conflict between his comments in this October 2003 interview for 60 Minutes and those he made May 1, 2004 [see above], Rieckhoff pointed out that during the former he was stationed on active duty in Iraq and constrained by those circumstances, and during the latter, he was not.

Quotes

  • "Think about it. Not only do our troops have to be concerned with roadside bombs, protecting their buddies, RPG attacks, avoiding civilian casualties, struggling to pay their bills and the back-door draft, but they also have to worry about being crucified by the world press afterward. No wonder roughly one in five troops returns home with post traumatic stress disorder." March 20, 2005.
  • "Really supporting the troops is more than just tying a yellow ribbon or putting a bumper sticker on your car. Supporting the troops means learning about their lives and their struggle-and [Michael Tucker's 2004 film] Gunner Palace can help you do that." [21]
  • "Troops execute foreign policy, they don’t decide it. Do you really want an Army that decides for it self when and where it goes to war? That is the foundation for a military dictatorship. Not a good idea." March 25, 2005.
  • U.S. service members in Iraq are "men and women of extraordinary courage and incredible capability. But it's time we had leadership in Washington to match that courage and match that capability." May 1, 2004.
  • "'There's a tremendous human cost of this war, and America isn't prepared for it,' said Paul Rieckhoff, ... [who] is touring college campuses to present an alternative view of the war.
"Rieckhoff criticized the military for not releasing the entire number of those killed or injured in Iraq, a figure he said is far greater than the 1,416 listed as killed and 10,622 listed as wounded by the Defense Department.
"'It takes guys like us to embarrass [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld before things get changed,' he said. 'The military is being run into the ground, and the American people are unaware of what's really going on.'" January 27, 2005.

Published Works

"Chasing Ghosts. A Soldier's Fight for America from Baghdad to Washington," NAL Hardcover, May 2, 2006, ISBN 0451218418[22][23]

Biographical Data

"An Army lieutenant, he went into Baghdad in the first wave and helped seize one of Saddam's palaces. Then his unit started running out of water and had to provide security for Halliburton. So, to change things on the ground, he started Operation Truth ... "

Rieckhoff "was a football star in high school. He was student-body president at Amherst. He's the son of a Con Edison worker and the first in his family to attend college." [24]

Related SourceWatch articles

External articles

  1. The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies Advisory Board, organizational web page, accessed April 6, 2012.