Petraeus Scandal Draws Attention to Military Brass and Tampa Society
Tampa's Bayshore Blvd.
November 19, 2012 | WMFE - The Petraeus sex scandal not only cost the CIA director his job, it has generated a lot of interest about the general's time spent as commander at U.S. Central Command in Tampa.
The scandal has also spawned an investigation of a second general, John Allen, over his email exchanges with a Tampa woman.
Many outside the Tampa community are questioning how two four-star generals like Petraeus and Allen, who was also stationed at CENTCOM in Tampa, could have become so friendly with a socialite like Jill Kelley.
Among the many titles that Tampa socialite Jill Kelley has claimed, from honorary counsel for South Korea to honorary ambassador to US Central Command, is the designation: Friend of MacDill.
The Friends of MacDill program was started in 2010 by former MacDill Air Force Base commander Col. Lenny Richoux, who talked with WUSF prior to his change of command this May.
“My number job when I wake up in the morning is base security.” Richoux said. “Is the base secure? I can absolutely tell you that it is but at the same time I want to open it up.”
During his two-year tenure as base commander, Richoux reached out to hundreds of civic leaders, elected officials and other military advocates – inviting them to participate visit the base and volunteer. His philosophy was that the base belonged to the taxpayers. So, he started the MacDill Friends program.
“Basically I am vouching for you to come on my base.” Richoux said. “I meet you, I shake our hand I get to know you. I tell you about the base. You express interest and then we vet you through a security process then we grant you access to the base for a limited period of time.”
Jill Kelley got one of those “Friends” passes that allowed her access to the base during daylight hours. But she received it several months after Petraeus had left CENTCOM to oversee the war in Afghanistan.
Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio also received a Friends of MacDill pass but hasn’t used it.
“It’s a nice, good will thing to do to say ‘hey you’re welcome on the base.’” Iorio said. “The base is part of the community and I think that is what they’ve tried to do is to say hey the community and the military is one and we feel good about that relationship.”
And it’s a two-way relationship both on and off the base that Iorio believes is being misconstrued.
“The one thing that I regret is all this brouhaha that has cropped up over this one couple that has opened up their home to have parties for the military and that’s a very generous thing to do.” Iorio said. “But it does not typify nor does it represent the relationship of our community to MacDill Air Force Base.”
Iorio attended parties at the Kelley’s house as mayor. She says what’s not getting out is how the community supports MacDill and military families in so many other ways like volunteering at the James A. Haley VA Hospital or the Bayshore Patriots who have waved flags every Friday on Tampa’s Bayshore Blvd. since 9-11.
Iorio didn’t stop there, she rattled off a list of joint military and civilian efforts.
“The coalition Thanksgiving that was hosted every year by the community, the Military Affairs Council of the Greater Tampa Chamber that would host recognition banquets. “ Iorio said. “Even the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce had a separate military community honor.”
One of those civilian volunteers working with families from CENTCOM’s International Coalition is Tampa resident Dena Leavengood. She says her unofficial help among the families started right after 9-11 when officers from 69 countries and their families were brought to MacDill.
“Since then I’ve been passed down from family to family particularly among the Asian coalition representatives and recently in the last year I’ve also gotten more involved with our American military stationed at MacDill as well.” Leavengood said.
Whether international or American, an estimated 80 percent of MacDill’s military families live off base, and Leavengood said, that means they are neighbors and their kids go to the same schools.
“So the fact that anybody in our community might have relationships with any number of people at MacDill and particularly since we have so many retirees or people who are former military living in our community, then there are likely going to be opportunities where we’re going to be in social situations where we’re going to meet representatives who are still serving at MacDill.” Leavengood said. “We’re all neighbors, we all live together and of course we’re going to have relationships with each other.”
So seeing photographs of Jill Kelley with David and Holly Petraeus during a Gasparilla parade is not a novelty to many in Tampa, the military and civilian communities are intertwined.
Former Mayor Iorio has talked with several reporters from national news organizations hoping they’ll give a more “well rounded” view of the relationship between MacDill and Tampa.
“I think they kind of shorthand it all.” Iorio said. “Social functions and MacDill, parties and MacDill and it just goes way beyond that.So many people have done a lot of volunteer work for our military and that’s appreciated to me that’s really the nuts and bolts of how we operate at as community.”
Iorio says Tampa and MacDill’s reputations will withstand the scandal and she expects the relationship between the city and its Air Force Base to remain strong.