The caucuses: a soldier’s view1/27/2016
The retired Navy captain sat across the table at Smokey Row Coffee. Totally composed. Taking my measure is my guess.
I start to feel a little warm under her scrutiny.
Let’s see — unwavering eye contact, upright posture, an open smile. Check, check and check. Naval Captain Megan Klee, retired, is on a campaign.
“I decided I wanted to actually see all the presidential candidates in person. It is different to see them in person where you get more than a sound bite.”
Klee is making the rounds from her home base in Des Moines. She and her husband, Allan Kniep, make forays out to Waukee, or Urbandale, or Oskaloosa to hear and talk to the candidates. But Klee is not a passive observer of these events.
“To see the candidates in person isn’t as much as I’d hoped it would be because the candidates are speaking to their own true believers. And even when it’s an open forum, they still think they are speaking only to their own true believers. And kind of shocked when they aren’t. So… I ask questions.”
No surprise. I would wager she’s used to getting answers. Klee was 27 when she joined the Navy Officer Candidate School after working for several years as a speech pathologist.
“I joined the Navy because I was interested in computers. I thought there was more of a future in that than speech pathology. I was told I could get into the field through the Navy. And that’s exactly what happened.”
I’m not surprised.
“My other reason is that I wanted to travel.”
And travel Klee did.
“My first tour was to Washington, D.C., to a computer command. My second tour was in Naples, and then I was sent to Sicily. I spent two years as the officer in charge of the communication facility there. I went from there to the naval postgraduate school in Monterey. I then went to Norfolk, Virginia, in another officer-in-charge position.”
Wow, and then did you retire?
“After Norfolk, I went to Japan as an executive officer. Spent a couple of years there. Then back to Washington, D.C., where I was with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and that was the time Colin Powell was the Chairman. So I worked for him. I did that for two years.”
My head is spinning, but she doesn’t stop.
“I went to an island in the middle of nowhere called Diego Garcia to run their communications. Diego Garcia is south of India. I then got a job north of Malibu at a space command where we monitored various space things.”
Space things? Really?
“Then I wrangled a job in London for a couple years.”
Of course you did.
“My last tour was in San Diego. I was in command there of about 500 people.”
Ah, so then you retired?
“From the military. But before I did, I saw an ad for the Los Angeles Unified School District. The second largest school district in the U.S. They hired me to be their first chief information officer for the school system.”
And now you are twice retired and visiting with candidates. How’s that going?
“Trump had a free lunch in Oskaloosa. By the time we were done eating, the auditorium was full. So we were going over into the overflow area, and someone said, ‘We have to fill up the front two rows, do you want to go over there?’ So we did. We are sitting in the second row. No further away than two yards. Fairly close. I could see the spit coming out of his mouth. What was interesting is that there is a slew of true believers in there, screaming and yelling. And these front two rows were just people sitting — not true believers. He kept looking at us like what was wrong with us. But again, interesting. It was an oratory full of insults.”
But you do like to engage the candidate?
“I feel asking questions is my one opportunity. Rick Santorum asked the audience a rhetorical question: ‘Do any of you want your taxes raised?’ Allan and I raised our hands. We think we could pay more, and there are things necessary to maintain the country, like infrastructure.”
My guess is that you were the only two.
“You know, it’s easy to go listen to people you agree with. But I think it’s also important that you go listen to the people you don’t agree with.”
And what conclusions do you draw from all your experience?
“I think we’ve lost a sense of owing something to society as a whole. You don’t hear candidates ask the American people what they’re willing to do. Like Kennedy said — not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for the country. I think there needs to be more demands of the American people as to what are they willing to contribute rather than people just looking at government as the bad guy and not wanting to pay taxes.”
You sound like an activist.
“It is kind of in my genes to be an activist. I don’t think necessarily that you can change the world, but if you don’t try, that’s wrong. And too often I’ve been successful nudging things the direction I think they should go in my work and in my life. You’re not going to get change unless you push for change.”
Klee smiles. Open and unguarded. Unwavering eye contact. Upright posture.
And off she goes to visit her next candidate. To listen and analyze. To ask her questions. To take their measure. And ours. CV
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.