Chasing Ghosts

“Don’t feel guilty,” he said. “Feel motivated.”

It’s January. I’m in Park City, Utah, covering the Sundance Film Festival for MTV News. I interview three Iraq War veterans on a snowy rooftop in the center of town. One, Paul Rieckhoff, is clearly more of a media-savvy sound bite generator than the others. This becomes especially apparent when he reels of the key quote of the interview, the day, and the festival — heck, maybe of the year.

“This war is more important than these guys snowboarding, or Paris Hilton, or any of this other crap.”

Rieckhoff’s a smart dude. He’s set up Google to email him whenever his name, or the name of his organization, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), is published online. When I write about him in my January 22 post, he reads it…

Weirder still, in the middle of the interview, I found myself feeling kinda guilty. And I’m not sure why. Because I haven’t done enough? Because I haven’t spoken up enough? I’m not quite sure.

Within hours, Paul emailed me from his Blackberry.

“Don’t feel guilty,” he wrote. “Feel motivated.”

It became clear to me after trading just a few emails that this guy was something different. He’s engaged, he’s proactive, he’s assertive. And he’s a nice guy.

His organization, IAVA, is non-partisan. Those yellow stickers on your Hummer? Paul’s fighting for them. He’s putting his money where his mouth is, walking the walk, not just hanging a ribbon. IAVA is creating support groups. They’re advocating for policy. They’re looking after their homeless bretheren. they’re doing something.

Paul released his memoir, “Chasing Ghosts,” on Monday. He coordinated the release date with the anniversary of George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech.

What a douche bag.

Not Paul, Bush.

Anyway, Paul kicked off his book tour in New York City tonight. He read a few passages, and answered a few questions. Once again, I was struck by how articulate he is, how knowledgeable he is, and how indisputable his experience is.

WMDs? Oh really? Body armor? Hmmmmm. Shock and awe?

Puh. Lease.

I bumped into Paul last weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival. He’s difficult to miss: six two, two forty, bald. His was sitting on a wall just watching passers by. I paused and reintroduced myself. After a few minutes catching up from Sundance, he handed me a postcard for his buddy Harold’s film, “When I Came Home.”

“You should come to a screening,” he said.

Dude’s got a novel coming out in thirty-six hours and he’s pitching someone else’s thing.

I still don’t know what to do about Iraq, or Bush, or and of the other seriously fucked up things (Walmart, McDonalds, SUVs) we’ve got goin’ on here in America. But I do feel motivated. And I do feel honored to know someone who’s asking the right questions, and walking in the right direction.

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