Three days before the 82nd annual Academy Awards, Paul Rieckhoff discussed how American soldiers were portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film “The Hurt Locker,” As the founder and Executive Director of the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Rieckhoff has become the voice for those who fought overseas and are now readjusting to a new life stateside.
The Luncheon Society sat down with Paul when he was in San Francisco for his third meeting with us in three years, the prior being in Los Angeles and Manhattan. The latter gathering shared with former Slate.com military affairs writer, Phil Carter, who later served during the early months of the Obama White House as the Assistant Secretary Defense for Detainee Affairs.
As “The Hurt Locker” tallied up 6 Academy Award after being nominated for 9, you could sense Paul’s frustration grow throughout the evening from comments posted on Facebook; in the final analysis, he believed, the filmmakers did not get Iraq right.
Rieckhoff rarely moonlights as a movie critic. However, he leads of the first and largest non-profit organization to support those who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the recent legislation to overhaul the GI Bill of Rights, Paul and the IAVA performed a pivotal service. They were the human face to the long-needed policy upgrade. Today, the IAVA has over 125,000 members and the organization is critical to those vets coming home.
After Rieckhoff returned home in 2004 from his tour in Iraq, where he led hundred of combat patrols throughout Baghdad, he penned a critically acclaimed memoir Chasing Ghosts. When he could not find an organization that he felt met the need to today’s returning troops, he founded the IAVA.
Why would Rieckhoff be frustrated by the movie portrayal of those fighting on the streets of Iraq? We live in a disengaged nation where the war effort is carried by the broad shoulders of the ½ of 1% who are doing the fighting and dying overseas. The rest of us show our support through ribbons placed on our SUVs, which hardly constitutes a home front. With media coverage on the wane in Iraq and muted in Afghanistan, movie portrayals of those “in country” may be the only connection that bridges that narrow minority with the rest of us. Continue reading