Gen. David Petraeus has become a household name for commanding the troops and crafting U.S. strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. He recently was named to head the CIA.

His wife, Holly, is also a rising star, appointed last January to a key position in the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She will oversee the Office of Servicemember Affairs, protecting military families against shady loan and credit practices. The office opens July 21.

Petraeus, 58, has spent much of her 36 years of married life volunteering and organizing support services for military families. That experience has given her a keen understanding of the economic hardships military families can face. She has run a consumer advocacy program for the Better Business Bureau providing financial education and consumer advocacy for service members. She will continue that mission in the new federal agency.

During a recent visit to Cincinnati to West Chester-Liberty Chamber Alliance Expo, Petraeus talked one-on-one to Cincy Magazine about her new job.

How did you get involved with consumer advocacy issues for service families?

During the first year of the Iraq War (in 2003), we were at Fort Campbell, Ky. where my husband commanded the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). The entire division went to war and the families remained at the post. I took a much more visible role then than I would have, had my husband been there. I got to know local leaders, including the CEO of the Better Business Bureau (of Nashville, Tenn.). She said the Council of Better Business Bureaus wanted to do a national program similar to what had been done locally, and I was asked to give their CEO some advice. That (advice session) turned out to be a job interview, and I ended up running the national program for six years.

Do military families have unique problems with credit and debt issues?

It is a young population that doesn't have that much experience managing money. They tend to be targeted because they do have a guaranteed paycheck that comes in twice a month.

Military members may be new to a community, and they may not know who the good and bad players are. They may go for the biggest billboard outside the front gate, and that may not be the business that will treat them fairly.

How will the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency help military families?

A big piece of what we do, frankly, has to be education. There are too many scams out there. You can't enforce against them all. There is no agency in the world that can do that. So we need to educate people to recognize the scams and to think about the long term.

We (the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) will be regulating non-bank entities, like payday lenders. It's the first time a federal agency has done that. The Military Lending Act does provide some protection against payday loans. But there are other short-term loans out there that may not be the best choice, and if you go on the Internet (for a loan) it's like the Wild West.

As a young military family, did you and your husband get into any financial problems?

In those days easy money was not out there. There was nothing like a payday loan. If you wanted a loan, you really had to go in and explain yourself and fill out a lot of paperwork.

We did make some decisions that probably weren't the wisest. We bought the expensive and impractical sports car and spent way too much on getting it fixed. We rented an apartment sight unseen, because the brochure looked good.

Are you surprised at this stage in life that you've been tapped for a key civil service position?

I'm a pretty good example that volunteer work can transfer into paid employment. It can make you an expert in certain areas, if you do it long enough.