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TVFF Interview: Paul Rieckhoff on The Next Food Network Star's JAG
Thursday, July 05, 2007 | posted by Mike

Last week, we had a post on the JAG situation which referenced an updated Military Times article and recapped a bit of the reaction that we were hearing regarding JAG's background. In the course of the post, we mentioned that Paul Rieckhoff had weighed in on the controversy and was quoted in the MT article. As I said at the time, Rieckhoff is an extremely high-profile advocate for veterans' issues, and his group, IAVA, has been very successful at bringing a number of important issues to the media's and public's attention. He's also the author of Chasing Ghosts, which takes a pull-no-punches soldier's perspective look at policies and decisions surrounding the war in Iraq.

According to the biography on his site:

Paul Rieckhoff is the executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the first and largest organization for veterans of the War on Terror. During his time in the Adamiyah section of central Baghdad, he led his light infantry platoon on hundreds of combat patrols with the 3rd Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions. He continues to serve his country as an Infantry Officer in the New York Army National Guard.

Rieckhoff is a nationally-recognized authority on the war in Iraq and issues affecting our troops, military families, and veterans at home. He is a frequent TV and radio commentator and has appeared on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Fox's Hannity & Colmes, NBC Nightly News, 60 Minutes II, CNN's Paula Zahn Now, ABC's World News Tonight, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Air America's Al Franken Show, and NPR's All Things Considered, among many other programs. He and IAVA have also been featured across the country in numerous major national newspapers and magazines. He was named one of "America's Best and Brightest of 2004" by Esquire.

Prior to his deployment to Iraq, Rieckhoff worked as a high school football coach and an investment banking analyst on Wall Street, and later spent several weeks contributing to the rescue effort at Ground Zero after 9/11. He is a graduate of Amherst College, where he studied political science. He lives in New York City's East Village.

We were lucky enough to hear from Mr. Rieckhoff after the post and he generously agreed to take part in an interview regarding the JAG situation. His perspective, as a leader of his organization and as someone who has recent combat experience, provides a point of view that not many of us possess.

TV Food Fan: How did the situation with Josh Garcia's record come to your attention?

Paul Rieckhoff: I first read about Garcia in the Army Times. A reporter from there called our group requesting a comment soon after the news broke regarding his record.

TVFF: Let me play devil's advocate for a moment. Some of the posters on the Military Times boards said they knew him, that he is a good guy and that he just got swept up in the moment. Beyond the fact that Garcia is being dishonest with the show's audience, what is the greater harm when these kinds of misrepresentations are made?

PR: It diminishes the service of all Afghanistan and Iraq veterans. And veterans of all generations. A key value that we all learn the US military is honor. Being honorable means telling the truth. Lying, embellishing or exaggerating your service record is not an honorable thing to do—no matter how you cut it. Veterans of this war have been received incredibly well by the American people, regardless of how they feel about the war, and we want to keep it that way. Mr. Garcia has undermined a sacred trust the the American people have with our nation’s veterans—especially in a time of war. There are no acceptable excuses here. Attempting to further your career on a falsified military record is not only shameful, it is also illegal. The type of cowardly behavior demonstrated by Mr. Garcia was a major problem after Vietnam, and was authoritatively described in an important book titled “Stolen Valor,” by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. I urge Mr Garcia and the executives at the Food Network to check it out.

TVFF: Other posters, both at Military Times and here at TV Food Fan, have voiced strong condemnation of Garcia's actions. As someone who served in combat, what is your emotional reaction to hearing misleading stories like these?

It pisses me off. Big time. I take it personally. And I am sure that most other vets feel the same way. I have friends in Iraq and Afghanistan now. I have friends that have died in combat. And I work with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans every day. Our service members are honorable, heroic, dedicated people. Many have been wounded during their service. Mr. Garcia’s act of pretending to have experienced combat to further his career disgusts me. Our troops have earned the right to call themselves combat veterans through dedication and personal sacrifice. Mr. Garcia has not. He should be ashamed of himself. I don’t expect he’ll be showing his face at Fort Dix again anytime soon. If he does, I think our soldiers there will give him a very different reception than he received during his last visit.

TVFF: We mentioned in the original post on this subject that the issue of fraudulent claims of military service and honors has received significant press lately. Why is this issue getting so much attention recently?

PR: First, because it is a very serious offense. Lying about combat service is not something to be taken lightly. Especially when it is so egregiously for personal gain and fame. Second, we are a nation at war right now. Hundreds of thousands of America’s sons and daughters are in harms way every day. Over 1.6 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. 3,570 have died (as of July 3rd). That is nothing to be taken lightly. Third, veterans work aggressively to take care of our own. We will unite and mobilize quickly when our integrity is threatened. Vets all over the US have responded to this news quickly, alerted the press, and contacted the Food Network demanding action.

TVFF: Have you or your organization had any direct contact with either Garcia or the Food Network? Have they responded to your calls to make a donation to a veterans' charity in the event that Garcia wins?

PR: No. Not yet. But I hope that they do. We look forward to hearing from them. They can call our office anytime. I am also in contact with plenty of veterans charities that could use some help from the Food Network. I hope they will do the right things to resolve this issue and make amends immediately. Millions of veterans and their families will be watching.

We'd like to extend our thanks to Mr. Rieckhoff for his time and encourage any of you who are interested in his book or the IAVA to check out the links above.



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