Retired General David H. Petraeus delivered the keynote address at an annual USC dinner honoring veterans and ROTC students Tuesday night. The event, held at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and hosted by President C. L. Max Nikias and Board of Trustees Chairman Edward Roski, marked Petraeus’s first public appearance since he admitted to involvement in an extramarital affair and subsequently resigned as director of the Central Intelligence Agency in November.
Petraeus made international headlines last fall after it was reported that he’d had an affair with Paula Broadwell, his biographer. Further investigation by the FBI resulted in a full-blown media scandal. Aware of the controversy left in his wake, Petraeus was quick to acknowledge in last night’s speech the circumstances that led to his stepping down. “Needless to say, I join you keenly aware that I am regarded in a different light now than I was a year ago,” said Petraeus, speaking to a room of more than 600 guests. “Please allow me to begin my remarks this evening by reiterating how deeply I regret — and apologize for — the circumstances that led me to resign from the CIA and caused such pain for my family, friends and supporters.”
The main points of Petraeus’s address, however, dealt not with the incidents leading to his resignation, but with the general theme of helping veterans and the families of military personnel. The highly decorated four-star general, who received praise for the primary role he played in stabilizing Iraq with U.S. and allied troops, stressed the importance of adhering to four main goals: to work with the families of fallen soldiers, to care for those wounded in combat, to aid in the transition from military service to the civilian sector and to recognize and honor all veterans.
Petraeus emphasized the difficulties faced by service members returning from combat overseas. “War changes everyone who has experienced it firsthand,” Petraeus said. “In some cases the changes are positive. But many others come home scarred and wounded. This group includes, of course, those with physical scars. It also includes those with the so-called ‘unseen wounds,’ in particular post-traumatic stress and other mental health challenges. We must work to help all veterans.”
The message of veteran support felt appropriate given USC’s long history in helping the military. Along with Notre Dame, USC remains one of the only schools in the country that has maintained an unbroken relationship with ROTC since the USC chapter was established in 1943. Through various initiatives, USC enrolls about 450 veterans every semester, fulfilling what Petraeus considers an “obligation to help those who’ve served.”
Following Petraeus’ address, Nikias gave the general a pair of silver USC cuff links and commended Petraeus on his service to the country. “In our post 9/11 world, General Petraeus’ influence on our military is unmatched, and his contributions to the CIA are far-reaching,” Nikias said. “General Petraeus completely reshaped American military tactics and promoted our nation’s counter-insurgency strategy.”
Many ROTC students spoke to the effectiveness of the address as they exited the ballroom. “It’s great that he has a positive outlook on helping veterans when they return home,” said Monica Laporte, a freshman studying human biology who plans to enter the Marine Corps.
“I like how much support and appreciation he showed to what USC is doing,” said Anthony Trombley, a fifth-year who plans on entering the Air Force. “I’m glad to see that the school’s efforts to benefit veterans have been recognized by such a prominent figure.”
Indeed, USC’s many veteran assistance initiatives went duly noted by the general. “The leadership of the Trojan nation understands and is intent on meeting its share of the responsibilities. For all that USC does, I want to say thank you,” Petraeus said.