The Best Defense

Captain: I want nothing more than to stay in the Army -- but is that fair to my wife?

During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on April 22, 2013.


By Capt. Troy Peterson, U.S. Army

Best Defense guest husband

I'm at my 5-year point (initial commissioning obligation complete) and although I've signed up for ~3 more years, my desire for an Army career is being seriously challenged by the Army's career progression model and the inherent difficulty in supporting my wife's career. The lack of self-determination needed to coordinate our careers is a major problem for us, and this concern seems to be growing in the younger generation in the Army.

Like the Marine's wife in your most recent post on this topic, my wife is a true professional and a career woman. She's worked on Capitol Hill, worked abroad for the U.S. government, and now she's getting her master's degree from an Ivy League school (while we live apart for a couple years) -- all so she can continue to work in the public sector and we can both stay true to the ideals that mean so much to us.

Many of my peers face this situation; married to an educated, professional spouse who can't just pick up every 2 or 3 years to relocate to wherever the Army decides we should be, and continue their own meaningful professional career. It's a fact of life that opportunities vary with location -- Fayetteville, NC, and Columbus, GA, don't have the same job prospects as DC or New York. We don't expect the Army or anyone else to change that. I want nothing more than to continue my Army career, but if I have to, I'll find another way to continue serving my country and my ideals while allowing my wife to do something she finds professionally significant.

From the Army's perspective, this issue is a major part of the larger concerns about career satisfaction, retaining talented and strong performers, and competing with other professions for talent. My question is this: If the Army can have a great program for dual-Army career couples, why can't we also be more accommodating of dual-career couples who happen not to both wear ACUs?

My wife's "civilian" status doesn't mean her desire for a career of service is any less valid. Instead, the rigid career progression and lack of self-determination are forcing me to consider leaving the military entirely in order to preserve my marriage. However, the Army can adjust to prevent this stark decision from being a reality for many families. I've seen many couples get good results from the Married Army Couples Program. The answer for the rest of us isn't another, bigger Army program, but instead to reform the rigid career tracks and allow greater personal autonomy in job selection and relocation. Enabling individual initiative and greater personal control would facilitate dual-career couples achieving greater satisfaction, prevent us from facing a decision to leave the force just to preserve our families, and allow the Army to better retain what we so often say is our most precious resource -- our people.

CPT Troy Peterson is an infantry officer stationed at Ft. Benning. He served previously in the Second Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany and Zabul Province, Afghanistan. This article represents his own personal views and not those of Infantry Branch, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. government, nor even the pitching staff of the Florida Marlins.


The Best Defense

The CIA people who found bin Laden: What they're thinking about what they did

During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on April 19, 2013.  

The other night I went to a preview of Manhunt, a HBO documentary that will air on that network on May 1 and thereafter many times on CNN.

The documentary was like a high-class version of a Frontline episode, filmed and edited well, with expensive touches like music. One of the themes was how many of the analysts who targeted bin Laden were women. Another was how isolated it felt to be in the CIA after 9/11. Overall, I found the film a great document, but too inclined to give the CIA a pass, especially on the issue of torture and on some specifics, such as how the Khost bombing that killed seven CIA officers in December 2009 was allowed to happen.

But what I want to talk about today was the discussion following the film, which was even more interesting. (I took notes, having asked Peter Bergen, the documentary's executive producer, beforehand if I could, and was told yes.) It felt historic, a bit like being in the same room with the D-Day planners.

It also felt a bit like an encounter group. Clearly there had been strong disagreements within the CIA about the course they took:

  • Phillip Mudd, a former deputy director of counterterrorism at the CIA, began the conversation by saying he was not proud of what they did but that they did what they believed they had to do.
  • John McLaughlin, who was deputy director of the CIA on 9/11, recalled "how alone the CIA felt" in the years following the attacks.
  • Susan Hasler, who used to write the daily intel brief for the president, followed with a twist on that: "It was extremely lonely....We just didn't understand why we were going into Iraq" in 2003.
  • Jose Rodriguez, a former director of the CIA's clandestine operations, also was in the audience. He is remembered today as the man who ordered the destruction of the videotapes of some post-9/11 CIA interrogations. In the documentary, he downplays the significance of waterboarding. In the post-showing discussion, he said that, "We took a lot of risks, but we were successful."
  • Another guy with a Southern accent, whose name I didn't quite catch (I don't know the intel world nearly as well as I know the military world -- he's probably a big name), said, "We destroyed the enemy. However we cannot kill them all." So, he said, "We have to give people Kabul, in Gaza, in their own neighborhoods." This was a kind of theme of the end of the discussion -- that the CIA did what it could tactically, but that for long-term success, there has to be a national strategy that they couldn't provide.

What I found myself wondering as I listened to all this was a question an Army officer who worked on Guantanamo issues asked me years ago: How can you win a war for your values by using tactics that undermine them?

At the end of the discussion, I turned to the woman standing next to me, who I think had just been identified in the film as the chief bin Laden hunter. "So, are you Jessica Chastain?" I asked, referring to the actress who played that role in Zero Dark Thirty. (Yes, I know, on reflection, it was a stupid way to put it. I have been told that the Chastain character was a composite of several of the CIA women, including Jennifer Matthews, who was killed in the Khost bombing.)

"No," the woman replied, "Jessica Chastain wasn't there." Great answer!