Soldiers, families reflect on fidelity in wake of Petraeus's affair

Nov 19, 2012

Marital fidelity is a sensitive subject for many in the military. Relationships are stressed by distance, frequent moves and the dangers of war. Gen. David Petraeus's admission that he had an extramarital affair has led some Fort Drum families to reflect on the difficulties of keeping their personal relationships whole – and their image among a public that often doesn't understand their culture. 

Around Fort Drum, General Petraeus's admission has soldiers and their families thinking about whether military members should be held to a higher standard than civilian spouses.

Second Lieutenant Seth Prosser was having breakfast at a busy McDonald's near post before work. He says civilians shouldn't have unrealistic expectations about members of the military.

"I think when people look at soldiers or Marines or airmen or whatever, they see them in their nice uniforms and think that they're, you know, a cut above maybe, but you know, soldiers are just people too, and make mistakes," Prosser said.

Fallible or not, though, Prosser says military leaders should set an example for those beneath them. When they don't, he says, they have to face the consequences.

That's the view, too, of Major Miles Trudell, who was having a beer with other officers at a popular bar in Sackets Harbor, a scenic village on Lake Ontario about half an hour from Fort Drum. He stresses the need for good order and discipline in the military.

"It doesn't matter at all what your personal opinion is," he said. "We have standards and we have moral values that we have to adhere to – not for just ourselves, for the country at large."

Not only should military leaders set an example for their troops, Trudell says, but everyone in the military should set an example for the rest of society.

"I can't tell you how many times I've been approached by the general populace, and they've said, 'Thank you.' When I hear that, I know for a fact that I'm held to a higher standard. We represent a higher cause," he said.

Army wife Sadie Wells is mostly concerned with the tough practicalities of maintaining a marriage in the face of the many challenges military life throws at couples. Married for under a year, she's one month into her husband's first deployment, in Afghanistan. Wells says all the time apart can bring worries about temptations – like when her husband, Cole Wells, was in training to become a medic.

"He was with a lot of girls, and they were out partying and I wasn't living with him and it was like, 'Ah, please don't go out and flirt with these girls....' And at the same time it was like, I'm sure he's worrying the same thing about me," she said.

Wells says her husband is deployed with an all-male platoon, which eases her mind. But when he first got to Fort Drum, he worked with a lot of women. Wells says she knew them and she trusted her husband, but the idea of them spending two weeks at a time in the field together still made her ill at ease.

"I know I would never do anything and my husband wouldn't, but I could understand where, like, wives and husbands that aren't as secure in their relationship, where that would become a major problem," she said. "And so with my husband being in an all-male platoon, it's like, okay, check that off my list, I don't have to worry about that, I mean."

During her husband's deployment, Wells says the couple is trying to keep their relationship strong by staying in touch as often as possible. She's a good pen-pal, writing to Cole every day. And he gets a care package at least once a week. Their daily Skyping is interrupted only if he's out on a mission.

"It keeps me connected to him," Wells said. "So, like, I'll write down stupid stuff. Like, you know, Twilight's coming out and I've dragged him along to every Twilight movie, and so I write him – and he hates it, but he comes with me – and I'm like, 'Who am I gonna go see Twilight with this week? 'Cause you always come with me.' And it's, you know, it's keeping all the little stuff alive while they're over there."