The military generally votes Republican, and in the town that's home to Fort Bragg, Paul Ryan found a ready audience on Thursday when he blasted the president on the looming $500 billion in defense cuts. But talk to military families, and politics quickly recedes when you ask them what it's like to have their loved ones deployed.
Erika Nickel and her 14-year-old son Tyler were at a defense roundtable discussion to see Ryan. Erika said she was "excited about this pairing up." But her husband is an Army doctor, and mother and son spoke of the hardships of being a military family, including what Tyler's father will miss while overseas. Tyler's freshman year in high school, for starters.
"People don't realize that they're gone for up to maybe even longer than nine months at a time, and they can miss their sons', their daughters' whole years at school, and they … miss so many memories at home to sacrifice. They sacrifice to defend our country, and it's a big deal, and I don't think people realize how much they sacrifice," Tyler said.
Erika Nickel agreed with her son, saying it's a "huge sacrifice" both for the soldiers and the family.
"I have my friends and their children they have to think about turning off the news, not listening to anything," Nickel said.
Nickel is worried about the possible cuts, especially how they could affect her husband's security.
"I feel like my husband and a lot of my friends' husbands go over there…and they serve their time, and they're helping our country, and they're helping the people over there, and I feel like they should have the best, that they should have the most security possible to get them back home," Nickel said.
Rhonda Kent is also a military wife who lives here, but her husband is now retired and they run a defense contracting company. She said military families face hardships both when spouses and parents leave for deployment and when they return.
"War is always tough on the family, and it doesn't matter, deployment, whether they're at war or they're in training," Kent said. "It's still going to be tough. It's the separation that's tough. The next thing that's tough is when they come back."
Kent said soldiers returning home, many from continued and lengthy deployments, can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, but the community has family support groups and "readiness groups that prepare the families that are here."
"It is tough," Kent said. "I mean, I'll tell you. It's tough, and there's no way around that, but having a good support group is one good thing, and making sure that the soldier's diagnosed correctly is the second good thing."
Bill Roberts was also on hand for the event. He's a Romney supporter and a veteran, serving from 1953 to 1973, coming to Fort Bragg with the 82nd Airborne.
He said the war in Afghanistan hasn't affected his family directly, but it has hit the Fort Bragg community hard.
"When I went into the 82nd … we stayed here, but our troops have to move back and forth too often and too much," Roberts said. "It's been real hard on the families, so I would love to see an end come to that situation [in Afghanistan], and I feel like Romney can bring it to a good closing situation."