Petraeus scandal: Lifestyle of US generals

Petraeus scandal: Lifestyle of US generals

Washington : DC : USA | Nov 18, 2012 at 6:58 AM PST
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The extramarital affair of retired Gen. David Petraeus has shed light on the private lives and lifestyle of US generals. During the past week, with revelations of the e-mail flirtatious e-mail exchange between Gen. John Allen and the demotion of Gen. Kip Ward, the news services have been filled with stories full of speculation.

Petraeus' affair and Allen's e-mail exchange were uncovered during an FBI investigation due to Paula Broadwell's threatening e-mails to a Florida socialite Jill Kelley. There was speculation as to why David Petraeus resigned, linking it to the Benghazi debacle. The normal allegations of politicizing the issue have surfaced, which, given the current political atmosphere in the United States, is not surprising.

Ward was demoted because of lavish personal expenses, including travel with his wife, shopping trips and trips to the spa in government vehicles. The general was required to pay back $82,000, a modest amount considering the hundreds of thousands of dollars allegedly wasted.

Generals seem to have a sense of entitlement, with lavish perks. Some would characterize the lifestyle of the top ranking military press as excessive, since the military is stuck in an older cutural time warp. The top brass is often considered out of touch by those in the lower ranks.

Throughout the history of military establishments, a military batman, a soldier or airman servant, was assigned to commissioned officers. These batmen were servants that would cater to the needs of the officers, including maintaining his military quarters and uniform. As officers rose in ranks, an individual batman would be assigned and the top brass may have several to prepare meals, maintain the yard, go shopping and take care of their uniform.

Lavish lifestyle of US top brass

In the case of the Canadian Forces, this practice stopped in the mid 1960s and not a moment too soon. According to an article published in the Washington Post, US top brass enjoys a number of perks, which deserve examining.

The commanders who lead the nation’s military services and those who oversee troops around the world enjoy an array of perquisites befitting a billionaire, including executive jets, palatial homes, drivers, security guards and aides to carry their bags, press their uniforms and track their schedules in 10-minute increments. Their food is prepared by gourmet chefs. If they want music with their dinner parties, their staff can summon a string quartet or a choir.

The elite regional commanders who preside over large swaths of the planet don’t have to settle for Gulfstream V jets. They each have a C-40, the military equivalent of a Boeing 737, some of which are configured with beds. Washington Post

A four star general gets a salary of $235,000, but is only permitted take home pay of $179,000. While this is below President Obama's tax the rich line, it is a large salary when you consider those same generals get free housing, yard maintenance and transportation. On retirement, those who have served at least 40 years receive an annual pension of $236,650.

Some generals will argue that with tight schedules the perks are justified, while others would argue that it skews judgment, with a sense of entitlement.

Four star generals are revered

Generals have their own agenda and seek influence politicians of both political parties. Throughout their military career they have cultivated relationships to help them move along in their career.

In Petraeus' case, he was a revered national hero, whose surge succeeded in Iraq. This led to his appointment as ISAF Commander in Afghanistan, where he was credited with another surge. Although Petraeus got the credit, the results of the respective surges will be a point of discussion by military historians in the future.

Years of war, combined with a lavish lifestyle, may be skewing the judgment of military leaders. In fact, one can easily argue that they are indeed out of touch with their soldiers and American society as a whole.

The adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely applies here. Politicians with little or no military background must rely on the advice given by the top brass. Gen. Stanley McChrystal went public when he didn't get his way, surely influencing President Obama.


The fact that the lifestyle of generals has come under scrutiny is a good thing. The military is the politcal arm of diplomacy. In a democratic society, the military has to come under the control of its government.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered an investigation into the top military brass of the Pentagon. While he concedes that most generals remain within the regulations, the step to examine the military culture at the top level is warranted. For now the top brass has been tarnished.

When Panetta leaves his post, it is essential that a strong secretary of defense be nominated. Generals have to operate within the norms of society and promote a military culture that is in the interests of national security.

Source: Washington Post

Wikepedia: Military Batmen

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US Top Brass - Allen and Petraeus
General's Allen and Petraeus have both come under fire for indiscretions
Karl Gotthardt is based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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