Charlotte’s Paula Broadwell stepped up her comeback campaign Tuesday by giving a speech – her first since her affair with Gen. David Petraeus became public last year. Her subject: how her adopted city can help veterans returning to civilian life.
Her 24-minute address to the Charlotte Rotary Club, full of statistics and personal stories about returning soldiers, seemed designed in part to burnish her image as a longtime advocate of veterans – especially those wounded in combat.
Regulars at the weekly Rotary lunches said the crowd of 235 people was bigger than usual. Also atypical: Guest speaker Broadwell did not entertain questions from the audience.
The 40-year-old Broadwell, a West Point graduate, spoke briefly with reporters after the lunch. But it was understood that she would not answer any questions about the scandal late last year that triggered the resignation of then-CIA director Petraeus and caused the Army to rescind her promotion from major to lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves.
She was introduced Thursday as the author of a best-selling book, though there was no mention of the fact that it was a biography of Petraeus.
Asked by the Observer whether the United States should go ahead with a military strike on Syria – a measure Petraeus publicly endorsed last week – Broadwell at first said that “the focus of our speech today is on veterans.”
But then she weighed in on the ever-changing Syria controversy, saying that it was a “great move” by President Barack Obama to work with the U.N. and negotiate with Russia for a verified control of Syria’s chemical weapons.
Broadwell, who seemed nervous at times, began her speech with a round of “thank-you’s,” including one to Charlotte for “its embrace of my family and other military families who have moved here.” Broadwell and her husband, Dr. Scott Broadwell, a radiologist, bought a house in Dilworth in 2009. They have two young sons.
The Queen City, Broadwell told the crowd, has become a popular destination for veterans returning to civilian life – especially those looking for a place to retire.
In the next 18 months, she said, the Department of Veterans Affairs is predicting that 7,000 to 10,000 veterans will move to Charlotte. Nearly all have “proven skills” that can make Charlotte a more vibrant and prosperous community, she said.
But many need help adjusting, and Broadwell called on the city to do more to provide these veterans with jobs, education, affordable housing and mental health services.
“I think Charlotte and our leaders have an obligation to ensure this population has a smooth transition,” said Broadwell, who lauded local groups, such as Charlotte Bridge Home, that help connect veterans with programs.
Without increased support, she said, many veterans will become victims of alcohol abuse, homelessness, even suicide – nationally, a veteran ends his or her own life every 65 minutes.
“Our soldiers have given so much,” she said. “Now we need to give back to them.”
Public-private partnerships – with government, corporations and veterans groups working together – is one strategy for making Charlotte a mecca for returning soldiers, she said.
For example, Broadwell said she and others have been trying to woo “The Warrior Games,” an Olympic-like competition for disabled veterans, to Charlotte. Currently, it is based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Broadwell, who recently competed in a local triathalon, told reporters she’s also interested in working with others to “galvanize a fitness movement” in Charlotte, which was ranked 35th out of 50 large cities in overall fitness.