West Pointers are human beings, even those with names such as David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell. I think I have the standing to make this declaration, because I'm a fellow graduate. West Point is long on molding military officers, but a bit short on humanity. Its mission statement stresses the intent to commit every graduate to a career of professional excellence and service, embodying the values of "duty, honor and country." How does West Point do that?
Here's how: Rules! Hundreds upon hundreds of rules that govern every facet of human conduct imaginable, including my favorite: no sex in the barracks.
Yes, to become a leader of character and serve my country well, it is imperative that I not have sex in my college bedroom.
Does West Point succeed in stifling one of the most basic of human urges? What about cadet couples who are in love and will one day get married and have families? Does the threat of punishment - namely having to spend a weekend dressed in full parade regalia, marching with a heavy rifle, back-and-forth in a confined area - deter them?
Not so much.
Whether it's because love (or lust) conquers all, or because ambitious Type-A's stop at nothing in the face of adversity, cadets soon become experts at evading the no-sex rule. West Point officially designates "Flirtation Walk" as the one area where cadets can enjoy romance. But who, with the exception of the die-hard infantry types who will go on to Ranger school, wants to trek outside, far from the cadet barracks, to do their "flirting"? (Plus, for most of the year, it's freezing outside in upstate New York.)
So cadets engage one another in the parking lot, behind Battle Monument and in sports equipment rooms, among other places. Many grow tired of navigating these complicated logistics, and succumb to the comfy confines of their bedrooms, breaking myriad rules in the process.
Now throw us into a war zone, and things get really wild.
General Order No. 1 prohibits sex (and alcohol consumption) on an Army deployment. Typical deployments last approximately one year, so if West Point graduates follow the academy's rules, then they abstain for all four of their college years, plus the year-long deployment. Five years of abstinence is enough to make anyone crazy.
I was a part of the Iraq invasion in 2003. At the time, I was a naive, 24-year-old lieutenant and still a virgin (because of my former Jesus obsession and aversion to cadet marching). I assumed General Order No. 1 would have no impact on my life. I was wrong.
I had no idea that a combat zone would be such a sexually charged environment. Blame it on amped-up testosterone pouring out of aggressive, athletic men. Or blame it on combat stripping even the strongest of men and women down to their core, raw emotions. Combine that with forming special bonds with comrades who promise to do whatever it takes to ensure your safe return home, including sacrificing their life for yours. What do you think happens?
Let me tell you, covert combat sex (or in my case, hard-core making out, because I was too scared to go "All-In") ranks high on the list of life's thrills. I'm a comfortable civilian now, and I know it's impossible to inject that intense passion back into my life. But I reflect on it almost every day. There's nothing that compares to making love at war.
What would I do if I were in charge? I'd abolish General Order No. 1. Keep the rules that protect soldiers from sexual harassment. But allow deployed officers and troops to have sex while at war. West Point should come to its senses as well.
West Pointers and other military service members endure tremendous sacrifices. We appreciate the adoration and respect we receive. In that same spirit, I ask the public to accept and forgive our weaknesses. It's OK to be disappointed, but please don't be misled. Beneath the heavy combat gear and impressive uniform, we're human, just like you.
Laura Cannon, a 2001 West Point graduate, is writing a memoir on her military service titled "War Virgin." She blogs at WarVirgin.com and performs in a comedy show that she created in Boston.