Broadwell was born in Bismarck, N.D. As a high school student there, she dreamed of a career as a globe-trotting diplomat. She was homecoming queen in 1990, and she excelled in track, basketball and orchestra. “God has given me all of these gifts to use to the best of my ability,” she said in a yearbook entry.
She was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy, graduated in 1995, and served five years as an active-duty intelligence officer in Europe and South Korea. She remained an active-duty officer until 2000, when she transferred to the Army Reserve and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Some of her classmates and other reservists, who later spent time fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, complained that Broadwell was being treated as a counterinsurgency expert without ever having been deployed to a combat zone.
Others praised her for using her contacts and tireless energy to help other women navigate the male-dominated world of foreign policy and balance family with work.
In e-mails to friends, she talked about the strains of her frequent trips to Afghanistan. “The only way I can survive is because of my awesome husband and my mother,” she wrote in 2011. “Everybody is getting tired of it and I have a serious sleep deficit, but I’m having a blast! No complaints.”
Meeting at Harvard
Broadwell first met Petraeus in 2006 when she was a 33-year-old student at Harvard’s Kennedy School. She was invited to a small-group discussion with the general, who had recently completed his second tour of Iraq and was rewriting the Army’s guide to fighting guerrilla wars.
“I introduced myself to then-Lt. Gen. Petraeus and told him about my research interests,” she would write in her book, “All In: The Education of Gen. David Petraeus.” She said the general handed her his business card and offered to put her in touch with other researchers working on similar issues. “I later discovered that he was famous for this type of mentoring and networking, especially with aspiring soldiers-scholars,” she wrote.
While pursuing her doctorate at Harvard, Broadwell decided to write her dissertation on military leadership, which would include a long case study on Petraeus. After several e-mail exchanges, Petraeus, an avid runner, invited her to discuss her project during a run along the Potomac River.
When she was later asked to leave Harvard’s doctoral program, Broadwell completed a master’s degree there in 2008 and then picked up her doctoral studies at King’s College London.
In Washington, she became a frequent television guest and speaker at conferences sponsored by some of Washington’s most prestigious foreign policy think tanks.
Broadwell’s “contribution was based on a close relationship with and close observation of Petraeus in Afghanistan. That was her currency and what drew the attention of the Washington policy community,” said John A. Nagl, a Petraeus loyalist and former president of the Center for a New American Security. “It was a very unique story. . . . She had begun to transcend the Petraeus relationship and was being sought out on her own as a smart, attractive and poised speaker.”
She wrote combat dispatches on Foreign Policy magazine’s Web site and made frequent appearances at think tank events as an expert on counterinsurgency, Petraeus and the Afghan war.
“The level of access she got with the level of experience she had was exactly the sort of thing that makes people in Washington jealous,” said Jacobson, the NATO deputy, who worked with Broadwell in Afghanistan and Washington. “She had an opportunity that many in Washington dream of. She was playing with the big boys and girls.”
A ‘higher standard’
Broadwell’s book was published in January 2012, and she launched a big publicity tour that included an appearance on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” In speeches and interviews touting the book and her life, she talked about her access to Petraeus and her accomplishments. The New York Times and Inspired Women Magazine reported after interviews with Broadwell that she was ranked No. 1 overall in fitness in her class at West Point.
A spokesman at the military academy said Thursday that Broadwell did not win the fitness award, which went to another female cadet in her graduating class.
As Broadwell’s profile in Washington soared, she picked up many backers and won plaudits for her work raising money for charities that provided aid to wounded veterans.
“She was a networker, a facilitator, a convener,” Jacobson said. “I think she is a good person who made a horrible mistake.”
Petraeus has told former staff officers and friends that his affair with Broadwell did not begin until he retired from the military and joined the CIA in September 2011.