16 July 2012
Paul Rieckhoff is a veteran of the Iraq war.
After his return from Iraq, Mr. Rieckhoff founded the organization IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America).
IAVA is widely respected. As a result, Mr. Rieckhoff wields considerable influence and likewise has a considerable number of enemies who wish to see him fall. Some of those self-declared enemies operate a website called "This Ain't Hell." These people are trying to destroy Mr. Rieckhoff.
They have accused Mr. Rieckhoff of unauthorized wearing of both a low-rated award (bronze star for meritorious service) and a unit patch. The specific allegations, along with a statement that I just received from Mr. Rieckhoff, are at the end of this dispatch.
I do not know Mr. Rieckhoff other than through communications over the last few days, but I know something of those who are trying to bully and bury him.
The same people have pursued similar agendas with my own reputation. For instance, the website "This Ain't Hell," is written in part by Jonn Lilyea and Mark Seavey, who both associate closely with the discredited website Blackfive, which in turn orbits with the discredited blogger CJ Grisham. Grisham once published a photo of a dismembered mouse he killed. He is known for veiled threats of physical harm to several women and three men, myself included.
Grisham presents himself as a heroic figure returning from war, whose mission in life is to kill zombies and to uncover frauds. Who better to catch a thief? Grisham, an active duty senior NCO stationed in Texas, makes frequent public appearances, raises funds, and uses his puffed up veteran status as a backstage pass. He never misses a chance to belittle President Obama, yet the Army generals let him ramble on via Twitter and articles he writes.
Grisham omits that he was sent home early from Afghanistan this year after complaining about work stress. He never left base, and he saw zero combat in Afghanistan. He complained that he could not take the pressure, blogged about PTSD, and suddenly he was back in Texas, bragging about going to a Godsmack concert. He left his unit behind in Kandahar.
Why is Grisham important here? Because Grisham still makes frequent media appearances and is part of an asteroid belt of milbloggers that some people call “milkooks,” of which Mark Seavey, Jonn Lilyea, Jim Hanson, and Matt Burden are members.
Matthew Burden is the founder of Blackfive, and is a Trustee at Soldiers’ Angels, known for its far rightwing leanings. Burden padded his own military resume, which I stumbled upon but did not expose until now. Burden advertises himself as a special operations veteran, and as a battalion commander. Burden left the military as a major, and he did not attend special operations training. He did not command a battalion in any way that most of us would understand the term command or battalion, and he was no special operator. Matt Burden is a blowfish.
Many of these bloggers, such as Burden, Seavey and Grisham, are involved with Soldiers' Angels, which resulted in my shunning the organization. I cannot endorse Soldiers' Angels while Burden and Seavey are on the Board of Trustees. (If these people are purged, I might reassess my stance.)
Just yesterday, Jonn Lilyea admitted on his blog that he obtained my military records via the Freedom of Information Act, but he found nothing noteworthy, and so he dropped the witch hunt. Lilyea is the same guy who just days ago called a black man an "ape" on his website. That is not a crime, but it is indicative. Especially so considering Seavey is a hardcore member of that website, and a Trustee on Soldiers’ Angels. Do Seavey and Lilyea believe that black veterans are apes?
Why is all this worth mentioning? Why not just ignore them? People have often asked these questions out of naivety. In today's Internet world, and with the shoddy overall media quality from established sources, we see websites such as Blackfive, and characters such as Grisham, Burden and Seavey, taken at face value. They damage and bully many people, but bullying will not work here.
Yesterday, Seavey emailed to me, "Jesus you are dense." I responded in part with, "Please don't call me Jesus."
Jonn Lilyea also emailed to me and copied Seavey with a photo maybe obtained from my military records:
Lilyea emailed the above photo with the following strange email:
Gee, I wonder how and why Jonn got Yon's ID card picture?
SFC, US Army
That about covers it for weird behavior. Make no mistake: cyberstalkers can damage reputations and careers in the same way that a physical stalker can shove a blade into flesh.
Why would Mark Seavey, as a Trustee on Soldiers' Angels and blogger at "This Ain't Hell," put himself into a position where he appears to be involved in trying to destroy IAVA? I am not alleging that there is some conspiracy to crush IAVA as a sort of clash of the charities, but I am saying with full seriousness that Seavey, as an attorney who represents Soldiers' Angels, must be fully aware that the appearance should be avoided as much as the act itself.
The saddest part of this is that veterans are bashing veterans who are helping veterans.
Allegations have been made by "This Ain't Hell" that Paul Rieckhoff engaged in dishonest conduct by wearing a Bronze Star and a Special Forces patch before actually getting assigned to a Special Forces unit. Mr. Rieckhoff has been open with me, and I suspect he will be the same with writers who try to drill down to the core on this. It needs attention, as does the archaic paperwork system that our military suffers with. Just recently, a trooper has been emailing me from Afghanistan that some Soldiers in his unit have gone months without combat pay. That Mr. Rieckhoff's paperwork might be off is no surprise.
The original accusations are here.
I called Mr. Rieckhoff and we swapped some emails. I asked for a statement, which he provided.
Thanks again for reaching out. I hope this will help clarify things for you and anyone else who is interested. I want to be fully transparent, so here is the background on the BSM and unit patch. During my deployment I was told I was being put in for a BSM for service as a meritorious tour award. My DD214 listed a BSM for service (also attached for full clarity).
I tried to track down a citation later, but I never received one. Initially I attributed this delay to the fact I was in the New York National Guard but attached to a Florida National Guard unit in Iraq. But after several months, and multiple attempts to contact my various units to clarify, I assumed the BSM had not been awarded to me and I never claimed it again. I would never take the chance of misrepresenting my service record. Ever. And I’ve been in contact with the Department of Defense, Army Review Boards Agency (ARBA) to seek further clarification. In the unofficial photo from 2004, I wore a service award that was clearly noted in my official separation form DD214 at the time. As stated above, my DD214 included the BSM for service. For soldiers, especially in the National Guard, that is always the form of record. I did not have a presentation ceremony or other formal confirmation of the award. But that was not unusual for me and many other soldiers in the National Guard who have changed units multiple times, and was the case with a number of my other awards from my time in uniform stateside, at Ground Zero, and in Iraq. I acted in good faith by wearing that service award and I take any allegation that I acted otherwise very seriously and personally. That day was the first and the last time I wore my Class A’s after coming home. My subsequent drill weekends et al were all done in Battle Dress Uniform, which does not have medals on it.
I had the SF unit patch on in the same photo eight years ago because I was in the process of transferring over to an SF unit at that time. Let me be clear, it’s a unit patch and not a Special Forces individual qualification tab. I have never claimed to be Special Forces qualified.
Later that spring, I was on national TV talking about the war and thrust into the public eye. It was definitely a whirlwind time that I’ve written extensively about in the past. I talked to the SF Commander, and given my new public profile and uncertain future, I could obviously no longer join that kind of a unit. It was disappointing, but because of the events of last few weeks at that time, I didn’t know if I’d be allowed to stay in the service at all. My life became pretty public from that point in 2004 on. So I stayed in the NY National Guard, and later the IRR, wearing the appropriate unit patches, until I was officially released from the military.
I know this letter won’t satisfy every critic or blogger, but I wanted to make sure my side of things was fully represented. I sincerely apologize if I have offended anyone—especially in the military and veterans community. I have dedicated the past 14 years of my life in service to our country, supporting our veterans and their families, and driving a positive, national dialogue about the unique challenges facing the veterans’ community. I hope I have made a significant difference in the lives of the veterans and families I serve.
Best regards, Paul Rieckhoff