Called for hurricane duty, South Carolina National Guardsman and gubernatorial candidate reports to his opponent
By DEANNA PAUL | The Washington Post | Published: September 11, 2018
With Hurricane Florence, a Category 4 storm, expected to make landfall in the Carolinas later this week, South Carolina's candidates for governor suspended their campaigns indefinitely Monday.
Instead, both men — the challenger, State Representative James Smith, a Democrat, and the incumbent, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster — are at South Carolina emergency management headquarters, preparing for the super storm, according to Brad Warthen, Smith's director of communications.
With mere weeks left before the Nov. 6 election, every day missed is a lost opportunity to get a candidate's name out there, Warthen told The Washington Post. But Smith, whose father and grandfather were in the U.S. Navy, prioritizes service.
Seventeen years ago, on Sept. 11, Smith was an officer with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate Generals Corps, working on legal matters involving the military. After visiting Ground Zero, however, he felt it was his duty to fight. Smith resigned his commission as an officer of the National Guard and enlisted, beginning with basic training at the age of 37. Smith embedded with the National Police Force and was ultimately awarded the Purple Heart.
Now, as a major in the South Carolina National Guard, Smith expected to be called for active duty, according to Warthen. Smith is currently assigned to Joint Force Headquarters, which has been fully activated for Florence.
On Monday, Smith reported to McMaster, who is leading the state's hurricane response.
"Both have roles to play in preparing South Carolina for the storm and both are trying to keep South Carolina safe. The decision to suspend the campaign was something he did not hesitate to do," Warthen said.
The state's National Guard currently has approximately 2,000 soldiers and airmen supporting missions, according to Lt. Col. Cindi King, South Carolina National Guard's director of public affairs.
"With the coastal evacuation order issued [Sunday] by our Governor, we are actively involved supporting the S.C. Highway Patrol on Traffic Control Points, aerial reconnaissance support with the S.C. Department of Transportation as well as preparing for sandbag and engineer missions," King told The Washington Post.
The storm forced McMaster to issue a mandatory evacuation order Monday at noon for most of South Carolina's coastal counties.
Like Smith, the decision to suspend the campaign was not a difficult one for McMaster, said Brian Symmes, communications director for the governor.
"Politics are the last thing on the Governor's mind in a situation like this," he said. "His only priority is the safety of South Carolinians. That's what he will be concerned with throughout Hurricane Florence's impact on the state and in the recovery."