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Paul Joseph Rieckhoff III, 1998
Doctor of Humane Letters
Paul J. Rieckhoff III is founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), America’s first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rieckhoff is a nationally recognized authority on the two wars on a broad range of issues affecting troops, veterans and their families. He regularly testifies before Congress and, with IAVA, has helped push through critical legislation to assist and empower returning veterans.
A New York City native and first-generation college student, Rieckhoff majored in political science at Amherst, played football and served as president of the student government. After graduation, Rieckhoff enlisted with the U.S. Army Reserves, completing Officer Candidate School in June 2001 while working for J.P. Morgan in New York. He was among the first responders to the 2001 World Trade Center attack. In early 2003, Rieckhoff was deployed to Iraq as a first lieutenant and platoon leader. All 38 of the men in his charge returned home alive.
Upon coming home to New York, Rieckhoff became disillusioned with the wars’ portrayal in the national media and with the lack of coordinated, relevant support for returning veterans. Seeking action and accountability from the federal government, he created IAVA in June 2004. IAVA now has more than 200,000 members in all 50 states and worldwide. Through a strong and savvy media presence and consistent advocacy, IAVA is transforming the national conversation around key veteran issues.
Rieckhoff has been featured on NBC, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, NPR, TIME, Rolling Stone and other media outlets. In 2006, he published the book Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq: A Soldier’s Perspective.
He has been honored with Common Ground’s Celebrating Home Award and the Generation Engage Lewis Cullman Civic Engagement Award. He is an Ashoka Fellow, a Hunt Prime Mover Fellow, an Aspen Ideas Festival Scholar, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the New York State Council on Returning Veterans and their Families and a lifetime member of the VFW. In August 2009, Rieckhoff delivered the DeMott Lecture to Amherst’s incoming Class of 2013—the class that graduates today.
Hear Conversations with Honored Guests, talks given by the honorary degree recipients.
Read the transcription of Paul Rieckhoff's talk here.