'Every Guy In Our Platoon Came Home Alive.' What This Entrepreneur Learned About Risk and Luck.
Paul Rieckhoff started the largest organization for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. He hopes he is put out of business one day.
Entrepreneur is highlighting the work of military veteran entrepreneurs who are building their own businesses, chasing their dreams, and kicking a whole lot of ass in the process. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what is your business?
How many people does your company employ?
Twenty-seven. And we have thousands of volunteers and 425,000 members worldwide.
What branch did you serve and what was your rank?
Army. I enlisted in the Reserves as an MP in 1998, and eventually went to OCS and became an Infantry Officer. I served in the US, Middle East and Europe. I spent just under a year in Iraq through 2004, and a few weeks at Ground Zero in New York after 9/11.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
It means being a creator of solutions to problems. Veterans, in particular, are hard-wired to be entrepreneurs. They find ways to make an impact, often with minimal resources, that can achieve huge results. The term “Veteranpreneurs” is powerful and catching on -- with good reason.
Tell us about your proudest moment while serving.
My proudest moment was the day my platoon got home from Iraq, and we all stepped off the buses to see our families. We were proud of what we had done -- and glad it was over. And we all knew we were very lucky that every guy in our platoon came home alive. Much of it was luck, and much of it was also that we stuck together and got through it as a family. We were all very proud of that.
What did being in the military teach you about risk?
Risk is everywhere, always. In the military -- and in life. So you better learn to deal with it, harness it and thrive in the face of it.
Was there a problem that almost tanked your business? How did you overcome it?
The White House proclaiming “end of the Iraq War” was a challenge. Many civilians thought everything was over, and we could all just move on. Folks would often ask us, “Given the name of your org, what are you going to do when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end soon?” That used to be a thing. Now, 13 years later, after over a decade of forever war, not so much. Unfortunately, the need for our work only increases by the day. We’d love to put ourselves out of business. But unfortunately, we’re in a growth business. And if something like a war with North Korea happens, business will grow on a level we’ve never before seen. So we’re more relevant, more vital than ever before.
What should people understand about what they’ll get when they hire a vet?
Veterans are strong, independent leaders who can handle a lot of difficult situations. It’s not charity, it’s a smart investment in their future -- and in America’s. Veterans' dedication and tenacity represent the very best of the American spirit and ingenuity. In tough times, you need tough people. Smart employers big and small will jump at the opportunity to have these folks join their team. We adapt, improvise and overcome. We are the Innovation Generation. And we get shit done -- even under the highest pressure. We also give back. An investment in a veteran in an investment in your community and your country.
Is there a quote and saying that inspires you?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” -- Margaret MeadRelated Video: The Secret Business of Training Navy SEALs