We never get to pick our duty stations, but we get to make the best of them. As the weather began to heat up in South Carolina, so too, has the political race among the GOP candidates. And true to form, what was a political race without some good ol’ fashioned Southern mudslinging? South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called politics “a blood sport in the South”, saying “I wear heels, and it’s not for a fashion statement… it’s because you gotta be prepared to kick at any time.”
South Carolina, home to MCAS Beaufort and the famous Parris Island, was the third and often deciding state for the future of the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. Never having lived in such an important political state, I have at no time experienced all the energy — the electricity — of a presidential primary.
The barrage of hopefuls that rolled into small town Beaufort, piqued my curiosity and attention.
Editor’s note: This is an in-depth series of Meyer’s accounts as a military spouse and veteran hitting the Presidential Campaign Trail in South Carolina. Discover her experiences with Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or skip to her final thoughts.
How I Got Here: Trumped by Trump
Trump was not a man I knew much about at this point, aside from my family member who religiously spouts “Trumpisms” and quotes The Art of The Deal — a successful businessman and business owner.
I knew that Trump had a show at one point called Celebrity Apprentice, that he owns Trump Towers, and has some casinos in Atlantic City and possibly Las Vegas. That was about it, aside from his current bid for the presidency. I was in it simply for the love of my family member, and truth be told, to glean a bit of Trump’s shtick for entertainment.
I registered for a ticket online and added it to my calendar already filled with: morning YMCA class, commissary run, 1:30 ballet/Jazz, and 4:00 gymnastics. I knew I’d be cutting it close with doors opening at 4 p.m. and a rally time of 7 p.m. I arrived at 5:30 p.m. and figured there would be a seat or two left. To my dismay, I was too late for a seat — even the 741-person overflow room was filled to capacity and I was out of luck.
Despite being locked out of the event, the atmosphere outside was filled with energy. The speakers blared tunes from AC/DC to Neil Young while the crowds swelled and shifted outside, chatting about if and when Trump would arrive. The South’s finest-dressed did not disappoint, complete with big hair and fancy clothing along. There were also smaller pockets of young, college-aged students walking around in their preppy best and trying to go unnoticed, were a humble gathering of nervous-looking servicemembers cloaked in civilian attire.
I bought a flag and a few buttons from an unauthorized Trump memorabilia dealer, who followed Trump around. I asked the vendor if any of the proceeds from my purchase went to his campaign. He half-heartedly answered, “we done donate.”
I began to mill around, waving at a few fellow military spouses I recognized whose body language told me that they didn’t want to be seen at such an event. I began to hold my purchases at my side as if to say, “yeah, me neither.”
I decided to focus my efforts on capturing a picture of Trump arriving. I imagined him rolling in, waving, signing autographs, smiling for some pictures (maybe even kissing a few babies!) and heading into the event. I was so wrong.
I meandered over to the back of the school where I noticed a handful of what appeared to be Secret Service. I was informed shortly thereafter by a local police officer that I needed to leave the area. After the men in suits asked a couple just yards from me to leave, they exercised their right to be on public property and declined. I figured I’d hang with them since the officers left them alone. I didn’t know it then, but I learned a key factor which I would utilize in the near future: how to play the game.
Trump arrived to, from what I could gather by peering through trees and the fence line of Sea Island Parkway, a line of police cars escorting the candidate to the grounds. They temporarily shut down the street leading into Lady’s Island.
To my surprise, the caravan drove directly in front of where I was standing. I ran after the caravan and Trump, fully swept up in the moment and feeding off the excitement. I was 50 yards ahead of the crowd and I knew I’d get a glimpse. Maybe a photo? An autograph?
The last car of the caravan stopped and veered sideways, blocking the other vehicles inside the school grounds. I arrived at what I presumed was Trump’s vehicle, just as people began to exit the car. Trump? Was he here to say hello? No.
An onslaught of 8-men with automatic weapons, military-styled outfits, bulletproof vests, and headsets made their way to me, screaming in the process. This movie-set-like experience was not a movie; it was real and this team was determined to keep me, a 5’6, 38-year-old mom of one, military spouse and veteran as far away from an arriving Trump as humanly possible.
Waving their weapons around much like the fans who were waving flags that read, “Let’s Make America Great Again”, this team of men meant business. Terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time, I wondered if I ran past them, would I have been shot? Killed? Their guns and posture told me, yes.
Trump disappeared behind a brick wall, and that was it. Many stayed to listen to the massive speakers outside the buildings, and others decided to get back in their cars and head home, dejected.
As one South Carolina paper reported, “we are voting with our middle finger.” Trump supporters are mad, and they truly want something different from the status quo, even if that means voting a “celebrity” in as the next potential commander-in-chief.
This moment of dejection sparked something inside of me — it fueled my fire into discovering a way to get to the candidates, in person, without the threat of death, and even more importantly, to get some answers on behalf of military spouses everywhere. This was a light bulb moment for me. And it wasn’t about my family member, it was about me, as a military spouse, a mom, a veteran, a citizen — that I believed I deserved the opportunity to see these candidates without the threat of a firearm in my face.
My Quest for Access: Follow My Roots
Politics and the political process has always been a part of my family narrative from as far back as I could remember. Of course, being married to a man in the Marine Corps, our Commander-in-Chief took on a whole new meaning for me in my late twenties — he or she was essentially my husband’s boss.
My varied background experiences gave me the courage to think I could cover, write, photograph and report these experiences, should they come to fruition. As a military spouse, I take great pride in helping fellow spouses and have volunteered in different capacities with the desire to help others along this crazy journey. Simply put: I wanted to paint a snapshot of each candidate, the process, and what I experienced while on the campaign trail in South Carolina, not only for myself but for my extended military family.
I came home and brainstormed.
How could I ensure a seat at future events? Could I even get close enough to ask a question? Would I — a regular Joe — be considered important by any candidate?
My thinking took me toward the volunteer work I’ve done for USMC Life.
USMC Life was started by my friend Kristine Schellhaas, a dedicated military spouse, who welcomed me into the spousal community in 2007. Back then, I was a lowly girlfriend of a Marine, who was on his way to fight the enemy in Afghanistan, alongside Kristine’s husband.
I eventually ended up marrying my Marine and Kristine later asked me to assist with updating the USMC Life base guide for MCAS Yuma, including opinions about various local information, laminating the family-friendly opportunities, eateries, schools, etc. that were in and around the base.
Later, she expanded the brand to Facebook, where she ingeniously created pages for most Marine Corps bases around the country. She empowered those she knew to volunteer as an ambassador to her brand, even inviting them to run the pages. To date, her Facebook pages have helped tens of thousands of families in their transition to new bases.
I reached out to Kristine to discuss the possibilities of representing military families on behalf of USMC Life. Although usmclife.com was acquired last year, she remains on board as the editing manager today and has also penned a memoir, 15 Years of War, available in May.
After stepping back and studying the candidates, I realized that military spouses weren’t being talked about in the press. None of us seemed to have a voice with the contenders — at least not now. Our fights as spouses were not a part of any speaking platform, but as any military spouse knows, it was they who shoulder so much of this experience of “being in the military.” And I don’t say that to discredit what our men and women have done. Nevertheless, one can only truly understand this statement unless if they themselves are a military spouse.
With permission granted, I took a big leap of faith and set out to use every tool I could manage to get the voice of us, the military spouses of the free world, heard!
I reached out to my military spouse community on Facebook for questions they might have for the candidates. One of the comments was, “I was just talking to my husband about this last night! I would ask the candidate(s) what their plan was to ensure adequate military funding for our aging fleet, as well as for retention of the best and brightest who are leaving in droves (bring back bonuses?). Need to keep our guys safe and up-to-date trained in those geriatric planes!!
This question, from mil-spouse Shannon Backlund, became the backbone for the questions I began to form in my head for the candidates. It takes a village and I needed the military spouse community behind my efforts for them to be truly meaningful.
This is an in-depth series of Meyer’s accounts as a military spouse and veteran hitting the Presidential Campaign Trail in South Carolina. Learn about her experiences with Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or skip to her final thoughts.
About the Author: Rebecca Meyer, a veteran of the California National Guard, married to an active duty Marine Corps pilot, works part-time for GBX delivering curriculum to separating/retiring service members on behalf of the Department of Labor, writes a veteran’s blog with ACI Benefits, and most importantly is mother to a brilliant, sweet, tree-climbing, bike riding 4-year-old.
She grew up discussing politics around the dinner table and listening to talk radio on AM several nights as a family. She stepped into politics in the 8th grade after giving an award winning (Rotary Award) speech, firmly announcing that she would be the first woman president of the United States. She has fond memories of dancing around the room with her grandparents when Bush Jr. won the election in 2000. She remains an active part of the spouse community in Beaufort, South Carolina.