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Lost General, A Very Expensive Tax Burden


lost general

Benedict Arnold image via


Former General David Patraeus spoke on PBS recently.


He sounded good, on point, and a wonderful example of the manners you learn from being educated at the finest military schools in the land.


I liked the general right up until…

He graduated from West Point in 1974, the same year I joined the Army. While the Patraeus career began, like all West Point men, as an entry level Lieutenant (O1), he finished at the top of the ladder with four stars on his shoulders (O10). The O stands for Officer.


The tricky math shows he climbed ten ranks from 2nd Lt, 1st Lt, Captain, Major, Lt. Colonel, Colonel, before gaining General stars one through four. In other words he wore the greatest constellation available in America on his shoulders.


It’s a heavy load for a lost general.


My rise, from E-2, the E designating enlisted rank, to my end rank of E-3 in two years, was less meteoric. If I had been a better fit I would have topped out as a Sergeant Major, or E-9. Sergeant General sounds better, but it’s not in the books.


General Patraeus’ talk on PBS sparked the memory of his spectacular fall from grace. This extraordinary man, an Army General with a PhD, who went from the heights of military commands in war time, to Director of the CIA, dropped it all over his girlfriend/biographer.


Like any love-dazed kid, from the star football player caught with the wrong cheerleader, to a college professor at a fourth rate public diploma mill keeping office hours for his special students, the General found himself hooked on the line of a lady who knew how to play the game like a winner.


If there’s no class available for future officers on how to spot an opportunistic writer, there should be. Who would teach it?


After all of the government education at West Point, command college, war schools, and a Princeton PhD he probably didn’t pay for out of his pocket, he’s put out to pasture. As a retired General he still pulls about $220,000 a year.


I don’t begrudge him his pension, just the memory of listening to sergeants telling us privates how much the Army invested in us. When you join up, you are a piece of property, an asset they invest in so you can function as part of the whole.


It’s a good lesson lost on too many leaders over pumped on their own value.


What does all of the money spent on General Patraeus do for America now, besides sound good on PBS? What about other generals who stepped too far outside the lines and found themselves wandering in the civilian wilderness? Is public money wasted on educating leaders who fall so hard so fast?


For this former Pfc it goes so much deeper on a lost general.


Anyone who learned the chain of command in a military unit see the high ranks as stellar people. When they fail, they fail the lowest ranks who live in fear of making mistakes. Call it idol worship, but the big fellas in the best uniforms are more than role models, they are icons.


We want to be like them, live like them, get paid like them. A lost general can’t keep it together enough to dodge a hungry writer ready to give their all for story story that matters?


In the end it turns out to be wasted money, emotional betrayal, and a lack of dedication to the basic unit: family. Whether it’s one General in love, or another General with too many Russian friends, or the General reporting yellow cake uranium, we’ll never get the best return on the money spent on them.


The old excuse works too well here: people are only human. What kind of human might be the better question. A lost general makes it harder to tell.
About David Gillaspie
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