I Was David Petraeus's Bitch in the 90s and I Hated Every Second of It

By Duncan Larkin

The author writing out an operations order during the reign of David the Terrible.

Over the weekend, the media went into a feeding frenzy over the big, juicy, red-meat news that David Petraeus, the former head of the CIA and onetime adored four-star general, had been banging his fawning biographer, Paula Broadwell. If you’ve been following this somewhat-less-than-Shakespearean tragedy, you’ll know by now they were getting it on under his desk—that giant oaken hunk of power that no doubt displayed a miniature American flag and framed photos of his family. When I read about this, I imagined those photos jumping around on top of the desk while the great conqueror of Iraq invaded that obsequious writer babe down below.  

Petraeus is the West Point general who wrote the book, literally, on counter-insurgency. For years, when all was doom and gloom in Iraq, he was America’s top warrior—a flag-saluting, straight-shooting strategic genius who always had time for the media; C-SPAN’s heroic general. Everybody loved this guy—especially the liver-spotted silver heads in Congress. Whenever Petraeus testified in the halls of power, they all showed up to pump his fist and spew superlatives. Someday, they said, Petraeus would be included in the prestigious pantheon of West Point military gods: Grant, MacArthur, Patton, and Eisenhower.

But now that’s all out the window. Now, he’s just another big man who fucked around and got caught. He’s in the process of being disgraced. His friends are turning their backs. At least one reporter who used to belong to King David’s “cult,” Spencer Ackerman, has publicly disowned him. The salacious details about his under-the-desk romps will probably continue to be splashed all over tabloid pages for months like the chief spook’s warm jizz.

The man’s career is unraveling by the minute, and I’m enjoying every second of it.

I’ve detested Petraeus for a long, long time. I’ve tried writing about him for a decade, but nobody seemed to listen. He was bulletproof back then—not so anymore. Now’s the time for me to tell you all about this self-serving shithead and what it was like being his bitch for years.

Back in 1996, I was a starry-eyed West Point lieutenant in the storied 82nd Airborne Division. I had just graduated from Ranger School and the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment was my new home—my first assignment. I loved the Army back then.

When I showed up for duty, our brigade commander was a reasonable guy named John Abazaid. Morale was decent under him, because each battalion in the brigade was pretty much left alone. Colonel Abazaid let us solve our own problems. We were all competent adults and his laid-back, hands-off leadership style made us feel important and trusted.

But after a few months, Abazaid left and in came “Mr. Burns.”

Mr. Burns was our nickname for Petraeus, who was only a colonel back then. We called him that, in case it’s not obvious, because he looked and acted like the wiry, hand-rubbing villain in The Simpsons

After Petraeus showed up, my life and the life of every soldier under his command went to complete shit. Back then, the ever-calculating Petraeus, who had married the West Point superintendent’s daughter after graduating, was on his way up. The general’s star was within reach—he was only one rank away—and being in command of the “Devil Brigade” (our brigade), was absolutely vital to getting him there. During his tenure with the 504th, he had to kiss and lick as many hairy, hemorrhoidal assholes as possible. He had to guffaw and slap all the right backs; he had to seriously impress. He had to do whatever was necessary to reach the pinnacle. No bridge too far for that son of a bitch. Can do. Will do. Yes sir, whatever you want, sir.

What did that mean to us servile dopes under his command? Well, first he mandated that each and every officer in the brigade get what he called a “Devil Haircut,” which was a “high-and-tight”—pretty much a shaved head with a weed-like tuft of hair left to its own devices at the top of the cranium. We all looked like Beaker from the Muppets. He then made all of us, every member of the brigade, walk around with our hands firmly on our AR-15s. Normally, when we carried our weapons, we kept one finger, the trigger finger, at the ready next to the trigger mechanism in the event we had to quickly engage the enemy, but that wouldn’t fly under Petraeus, who introduced the “Devil Grip,” since apparently everything with him had to involve the fucking devil. Essentially, this just meant keeping your trigger finger out of the trigger well. If he showed up and saw anyone under your command without the Devil Grip, you were fucked. You got a dressing down and a bad performance review. You got Mr. Burns’s spittle in your face.

The genesis behind the Devil Grip came from the time when Dave was micromanaging a live-fire exercise in a trench. He got behind a soldier he was watching and another soldier behind him accidentally tripped, shooting the old bird in the back with an M-16. He blamed the accident on the kid’s lack of “Devil Grip,” but there are rumors about what really happened. The kid probably hated him (as most people who served under him did) and saw his golden chance to get even with a good and decent “frag”—a term coined in Vietnam for shooting a shitty officer who usually deserves to be shot.

Petraeus was just that kind of inspiring leader.

But the misery inflicted upon us by Petraeus didn’t end with a hideous haircut and an absurd grip. Since we were the asphalt that paved his road to glory, we had to do other silly things. We had to go over to his house during the holidays and make nice with his wife, Holly. We had to eat her cookies and sip her tea while we exchanged bullshit pleasantries, calling her “ma’am” and always being mindful of our language. We had to compliment her cooking and smile with our whitened teeth. We had to don our dress blues and sing Christmas carols. We always made nice—and this was on our supposedly free time. We quickly learned that in order to make it in Uncle Sam’s Army, we had to be grade-A bullshitters.

And when we weren’t doing that, we were off “training.” Petraeus could never say no to a superior, so we performed like trained monkeys for anyone who asked. We displayed our ferocious warrior spirit to the ambassadors of Brazil, Belize, and Bangladesh. We jumped out of planes and landed on hard tarmac in some yokel swath of Mississippi for Senator Trent Lott. And we liberated a fake village from fake South American dictators for Senator Strom Thurmond.

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