It's been an interesting week, promoting my new book about a doomed outpost in Afghanistan - "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor" - while two famous generals with apparently way too much time on their hands go through controversies involving women who are not their wives.
Gen. David Petraeus as an icon looms larger in "The Outpost" - his model of the celebrity general/warrior-poet is one pursued by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whose decision not to allow the timely closure of Combat Outpost Keating plays a role in the deaths of eight U.S. troops.
But more to the point, the notion of Petraeus running around Afghanistan with his (eventual?) mistress/hagiographer Paula Broadwell while troops are living in this hellish outpost, at the bottom of three steep mountains just 14 miles from the Pakistan border, provides a real disconnect. Troops at Combat Outpost Keatring and its Observation Post Fritsche would go months without even seeing a woman; every time they'd enter a local village women would hide or be hidden from them.
I asked a few of the troops in the book, and their families, what they thought of it all. I wanted them to speak freely, so I offered relative anonymity.
Former Sergeant, Blackfoot Troop, 6-4 Cav:
"I think it is a shame how selfish our leaders have become starting at the top. I served in the Army for 6 years and from day one 'integrity' was drilled into everything we do. As a sergeant, I tried to live this the best I could hoping others would do the same. Our men and women are putting their lives on the line everyday and deserve to have leaders who uphold our values."
Former Sergeant, Black Knight Troop, 3-61 Cav:
"The choices we make when we think no one is watching are direct reflections of our true character. It is unfortunate that a man with such political significance would be of low moral turpitude and choose to behave in a manner that would dishonor his troops and bring shame to his family. As far as the media coverage…sex sells in America - nothing new there."
A Gold Star mother whose son, a member of Black Knight Troop, 3-61 Cav, was killed in the October 3, 2009 attack on Combat Outpost Keating:
"Disgusted, with all the time they put in to these females, when did they have time for the troops. They are the ones the soldiers are to look up too. lead by example."
Former Army Specialist, Blackfoot Troop, 6-4 Cav:
"What Petraeus did is between he and his wife. Has nothing to do with his capacity to perform his job. The media circus makes our county look like a Jersey Shore episode instead of the strongest nation in the world."
Former Captain, 3-71 Cav:
"I'm torn. Part of me knows they should have known better, on the other hand they are both human. For me, though unfortunate, I don't think any less of their professional accomplishments. I think all this is getting way too much press, but I know that its getting so much press because it's what people want to see. That's the saddest part of all for me. We have it pretty easy if this is how we spend our time." - Captain, 3-71 Cav
A Staff Sergeant who deals in human intelligence:
"The risk of a person being the victim of espionage increases indefinitely the higher you move in the military or government…It will be no surprise if members of the military find a certain disgust in the idea that while we fight overseas and in most cases have no phone or internet access and risk our lives, Generals have not only all the amenities they couldwant or need, but also the ability and chance during war time to have an affair, to meet biographers, to have enough separation from the war to be able to live and find the time to get into trouble."
Former Specialist, 1-91 Cav:
"I think that the Army culture is evident in the generals' behavior. All you need to do is spend a weekend night in most (and especially infantry) single soldier housing barracks. I am not surprised at all, if you ask me. Lack of professionalism in the Army is something that shocked me at first, but I definitely got used to it over time. I realized that if daily tasks got done at the end of the day most of the time, then who cares about anything else…Our (Army) culture is suppressed and sealed off from the outside world. For instance, the military can be highly inefficient but no one seems to question it. In a different example, cases of domestic violence and habitual drunkenness are not at all uncommon among service members. I, personally, like to think of our Army as a giant circus, and the big clowns got busted…that's all."