* Generals in scandal had served at MacDill
* Tampa socialite was active in helping military families
* Couple's finances in question
By Saundra Amrhein and Barbara Liston
TAMPA, Fla., Nov 14 A former mosquito-infested
swamp occupying a 5,700-acre (2,300-hectare) spit of land on
Florida's west coast, MacDill Air Force base is considered a
sought-after posting in the U.S. military.
The base, now at the center of a spiraling scandal that
forced the resignation of former CIA Director David Petraeus,
also boasts close civilian ties with the neighboring city of
Tampa, just outside its gates.
Jill Kelley, 37, a vivacious Tampa socialite, seemed to
embody that civilian bond, and did all she could to make
officers and their wives feel right at home.
Those ties are under intense scrutiny because of the
behavior of Petraeus, who became a friend of Kelley during a
two-year stint at the base between 2008 and 2010 as head of
Central Command (CENTCOM), responsible for U.S. military
operations in the Middle East and South Asia.
Another former deputy commander at MacDill, Marine Corps
General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was
caught up in the scandal on Tuesday. Defense officials revealed
that he exchanged "flirtatious" emails with Kelley, who had
prompted the FBI investigation that led to Petraeus' resignation
over an affair with his biographer.
Defense officials and people close to Petraeus say neither
he nor Allen had a romantic relationship with Kelley.
Kelley and her husband, cancer surgeon Scott Kelley, are
prominent figures in the city's informal civilian support
network, throwing parties at their imposing home and providing
local tips and assistance for military officers and their wives.
Many of the officers were foreigners, operating as military
liaisons for countries forming part of the coalition working
alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The base offers plenty of perks including warm winter
weather, modern housing, its own championship golf course, and
proximity to shopping malls and Walt Disney World resort only 90
minutes drive away.
Originally established as an Air Force base during World War
Two, MacDill has evolved into the nerve-center of post-Sept. 11
American combat operations in the Middle East and Asia, housing
both CENTCOM and the U.S. Special Operations Command.
The daughter of Lebanese parents, Kelley enjoyed her role as
honorary consul, driving around town with a Florida consular
license plate 'JK1' on her Mercedes. ABC News reported that she
has represented South Korea since August.
"I like to think of her as a welcome wagon," said Aaron
Fodiman, the publisher of Tampa Bay Magazine and a friend of the
"When a new general's wife arrived and said, 'I want to know
where to get my hair done and where to buy a birthday cake for
my kids,' they knew they could call Jill and she would always
help them. Everybody called Jill," he added.
The bonds of friendship were so strong with some officers
that they stayed in touch after leaving the base.
Petraeus and Allen even intervened in a bitter child custody
case involving the son of Jill Kelley's identical twin sister,
Natalie Khawam, writing letters in her favor in September.
'MORE GOING ON'
The Kelleys had lots of parties, with tents on the front
lawn, said Janna Walker, who lives in an equally grand home a
Walker said military and foreign dignitaries would attend
functions and black vans and limos would arrive at the house. "I
don't know if it was Secret Service, but security was around,"
Attempts to reach the Kelleys for comment were unsuccessful.
A posting at MacDill, and at CENTCOM in particular, could
certainly be described as a choice assignment for a career
military officer, CENTCOM spokesman Mark Blackington said.
"For a military person, they want to go somewhere where the
action is," he said. "We've got a war going on and that kind of
thing, and I think it would be considered desirable."
Then there are Tampa's famous strip clubs. Warren Colazzo, a
co-owner of the club known as Thee Doll House, where a Sarah
Palin lookalike was the star attraction during the Republican
National Convention in August, said his customers include a fair
number of military personnel based at MacDill.
"Anybody from the military gets in for free," he said of the
club's military-friendly policies.
AIR FORCE TOWN
Together with the 6th Air Mobility Wing and the 927th Air
Refueling Wing, the base employs 15,000 active duty personnel
and has an estimated $2.8 billion economic impact on the Tampa
"Tampa is an Air Force town!" declares MacDill's website.
Few in the city of 350,000 would disagree. City and county
officials work hand-in-hand with the Pentagon to augment the
The city is in a battle with dozens of other bases around
the country to house some of the next generation Air Force
KC-46A refueling tanker jets.
"We have had a long history of mutual support," said Pam
Iorio, a former Tampa mayor, citing innumerable banquets and
receptions she attended at MacDill and events hosted by the city
for military officers.
The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce hosts an annual
military appreciation banquet, and each November the city
invites foreign military families to a coalition Thanksgiving
dinner at the Tampa Convention Center.
Iorio frequently attended parties at the Kelleys' home, or
saw the couple with Petraeus at military receptions on the base,
but says she never heard of any improper conduct.
"That's not the way in which Tampa interacts with the
military. It's a very respectful relationship, one of
appreciation for their service to our country, and it's really
deeply embedded in our community," she said.
She was as shocked as anyone to learn of Petraeus' affair,
especially after she included glowing references to him in a
book she wrote, titled 'Straightforward: Ways to Live and Lead.'
"He seemed like such a good leader," she said.
The Kelleys' financial standing has also come into question.
According to county court documents, the Kelleys owe $2 million
to a bank on a foreclosed office building in downtown Tampa.
The scandal is the talk of the town, said Keith Bowman, a
retired wounded Vietnam veteran, who lives half the year at an
RV campground for retired military and defense workers on
He and his wife often worked out at the base gym in the
mornings at the same time as the Petraeuses, and occasionally
ran into them at Cellini, a nearby restaurant.
"Everybody respected the guy," said Bowman. "He was a great
general. But now?"