The General Petraeus scandal has come as a punch in the gut to the military. There are those who cry out that it’s a private matter deserving privacy. We’re sympathetic toward Holly Petraeus, an advocate within our military family deserving our protection. Others feel a deep sense of disloyalty in the General’s actions, his infidelity is a personal betrayal of our trust as a nation. We have high standards in the military, they shout, why shouldn’t the highest ranking among us be held accountable? We expect this from our Hollywood icons, but not from our military leaders, the men who lead our family members into battle. No matter what side of the road we find ourselves on, the detour toward military infidelity is not a road we want to travel. The scandal is symptomatic of a larger issue; as a community we ignore infidelity, an ignorance that should be addressed, before taking a wrong turn.
Perhaps I stand on the side of road where Holly Petraeus now finds herself. My husband committed adultery numerous times during the course of our marriage and his military career. I don’t share this information as a way of punishing my estranged husband, but as a way to open discussion toward a healing solution for all.
When I discovered the first affairs that rocked my marriage to it’s core I was aware of Article 134 in the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. I went to my husband’s commander armed with emails between my husband and his mistress, a cassette tape from our answering machine documenting his confession of an affair, and an anger so pervasive it blinded me. I was told that the evidence I had wouldn’t be enough proof, which I challenged. Because I kept challenging my right to have my husband prosecuted under Article 134 I was finally told the real reason Article 134 was ineffective.
“You can pursue this, it is your right,” I was told by his commander. “However, you need to think about how this will play out. There will be an investigation. You will be required to leave post in 30 days, returned to your home of record with virtually nothing aside from what little the Army hasn’t issued you. Your husband if found guilty will receive a dishonorable discharge and will be unable to get civilian employment. He will lose his military retirement and any military benefits he’s earned over the course of his career, because he made a mistake. Which means you won’t receive any benefits you’d be entitled to as his wife. And if I’m being brutally honest, you have to understand that the Army has invested in him the soldier, not you the dependent. So the chances of him being court martialed will be slim- because the Army protects their own. So go home, and think about how important it is for you to get revenge.”
I was angry at the commander’s dismissal of my situation. I was hurt, I was betrayed and I felt victimized all over again. But I knew the commander was right- I was not the soldier anymore, I was the dependent. Before this and well after I knew of no male soldier who would be held accountable under Article 134. It was the rantings of an angry wife, or a female soldier who could be blamed instead. I knew where I stood, and began to believe that it was a mistake my marriage could recover from if I worked hard enough. His infidelity was the symptom of PTSD and other mental health issues. I kept silent.
My silence has been deafening over the years of my marriage. My estranged husband and I have tried to salvage the wreckage of our relationship without much success. To the Army’s credit they did provide us with counseling, ineffective but available, so I endured silently. But the culture of silence within the community was the hardest to endure. There seems to be an acceptance of the idea that these men and women are heroes so deserve our forgiveness no matter what they do. It sounds a lot like- “Boys will be boys.” or “what happens in the field, sandbox, overseas, etc. stays in the etc.”, and my favorite- “we shouldn’t talk about something so private.” There is also a fear that if the outside world hears about our soldiers committing adultery that the world at large will judge us, or assume it’s all of us. It isn’t all of us, but our silence gives that impression.
The weight of a military marriage is a heavy responsibility on a good day. We support each other in so many ways, making the load a little lighter. Perhaps it’s time we unpack this suitcase of infidelity, and lighten our load a little more.