Gen. Petraeus’s affair tarnishes seemingly idyllic marriage


Holly Petraeus looks on as her husband, then-CIA Director nominee Gen. David Petraeus, testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill last year. (Cliff Owen/AP)
November 10, 2012

The mother and father of the bride were glowing.

After 38 years of marriage, retired Gen. David H. Petraeus and his wife, Holly, were presiding over their daughter’s wedding last month in Berryville, Va., at the stunning Rosemont Manor. Anne Petraeus, 30, slim and beautiful, wore a white V-neck lace dress. Her groom was dressed in a dark suit and silver tie.

The Petraeus family projected unity and love, but they were just days away from revelations of infidelity that would shatter the CIA director’s career and taint his marriage. On Anne Petraeus’s wedding day, however, everyone was joyful.

“When dinner was over, Holly and Dave were both beaming throughout their evening,” said retired Gen. Jack Keane, a longtime mentor who attended the nuptials. “They made their own way around the room saying hello to their friends and relatives.”

Since Petraeus’s abrupt resignation Friday after admitting to an extramarital affair, the focus has been on him and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, with whom he is accused of having an affair. But the fallout from the scandal has engulfed Holly Petraeus, who met her husband in 1973 when he was a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and her father was the superintendent. They were married in July 1974 at the West Point chapel.

Holly always dismissed suggestions that Petraeus married her to advance his career.

“I’m not stupid. I wouldn’t have married someone on the make,” she told journalist Linda Robinson, whose 2008 book “Tell Me How This Ends” describes the Petraeuses’ courtship. “We got married because we fell in love.”

The daughter of a four-star general who can trace her family’s military service to the Civil War, Holly endured long separations from her husband during his repeated deployments overseas. To many Army couples, she and Petraeus represented a role-model marriage.

During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Holly emerged as one of the country’s most visible advocates for military families. Her own son, Stephen, served in Afghanistan.

In the close-knit world of military family advocacy organizations, she is considered a fierce lobbyist with serious credibility on Capitol Hill. As the assistant director for the Obama administration's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she monitors and investigates consumer complaints from U.S. service members.

She frequently visits military installations and testifies before congressional committees, exposing a wide array of problems faced by the rank and file: how military families can’t sell their homes for enough to pay off their mortgages when they receive a “permanent change of station” and must move; or how military spouses in professions that need licenses or certifications must pay expensive fees for renewals at each new duty station.

“And I can testify that military spouses move a lot! My husband and I moved 24 times in 37 years, in fact,” Holly said last year in written testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

As Holly confronts her family’s crisis, those who know her professionally and personally are watching with sympathy.

Joyce W. Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association, said it has been difficult to watch someone who spends her life fighting to protect military families cope with her own family tensions.

“There are so many of us who have been talking via e-mail about this, because we respect her so much, and that [the controversy] has to be so public,” Raezer said. “She is so well-respected in the military community. I always know that Holly Petraeus has her finger on what’s important. And when Holly says, ‘This is an important issue,’ that gives the issue instant credibility because she’s that good.”

When Petraeus led the 101st Airborne Division in the invasion of Iraq, it was Holly who stayed back in Fort Campbell, Ky., trying to address the problems of others, no matter their rank.

“She came onto the larger scene when she was there at Fort Campbell, keeping those families together, as the commanding general’s wife,” Raezer said. “Holly always has this ability to look at military families, regardless of rank, and ask: ‘What are your issues? Where can they be helped?’ ”

Keane, who has communicated with Petraeus since the news of his affair broke, said Holly will get through this test.

“Holly is a remarkably strong woman,” he said, “and she’s bearing up under these circumstances about as well as anyone could expect.”

Keane has seen her handle crises before. In the early 1990s, when Petraeus was accidentally shot in the chest with an M-16 rifle by another soldier, Keane remembers seeing Holly at the hospital where he was undergoing surgery. The round took out a chunk of his lung.

“I can remember when I first encountered her and told her he was in surgery and that he was going to be all right,” Keane recalled. “She was very calm. No outward emotion, whatsoever. No fear in her voice. She just very calmly asked, ‘How could this happen?’ ”

For her daughter’s wedding in October, Holly treated Anne and her bridesmaids to manicures, pedicures and hairstyling, according to Anne’s photo-filled blog, where she describes the nuptials. In one of the photos, Anne is laughing as her mother helps button up the back of her dress.

Afterward, Anne was elated.

“This weekend was so incredible,” she writes. “Such a wonderful time with so many dear family and friends. Truly one of the best weekends of my life!”

There was no hint of what was coming.

Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Ian Shapira is a features writer on the local enterprise team. He joined the Post in 2000 and has covered schools, youth culture, criminal justice, and technology.
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