Thousands whooped and hollered when Pete Skidmore Jr. took the stage Saturday night at Barack Obama's victory party in Columbia. Skidmore knows the cheers weren't for him.
But it still felt pretty cool.
"Before I went up, one of the Obama people said, 'Take a look around and soak it all in. You're a part of history,'" Skidmore recalled later. "I did that. And it was an amazing moment."
Skidmore is a National Guardsman who spent six months in Iraq before an injury forced him home. Now 24, the Fort Mill High School graduate stands firmly against the war -- which gives him a natural connection to Obama, who has opposed it from the start.
An unlikely role
Four years ago, Skidmore found himself in a desert war zone rebuilding bombed-out runways, schools and gas lines. Jumping into a Humvee at a base in Fallujah one day, he hurt his side and had to return home for hernia surgery.
His tour was over. But the frustrations didn't let go.
"They told me it was weapons of mass destruction," he said. "It got drilled into my head. But by the time we got to Iraq, they weren't worried about gas masks or anything. How true was the stuff they told us?"
Skidmore's doubts sound a lot like those shared by Obama, as the two would learn at a chance meeting in Columbia last summer. A family friend invited the Skidmores to a private get-together where Obama was speaking.
Afterward, the Illinois senator spent 10 minutes chatting with the family and seemed to hit it off with Pete. A few months later, the campaign called Pete to ask if he would introduce the senator at a rally in Aiken.
"Before I went on to introduce him, I just told him, 'I hope I represent you in a manner you would like,'" Skidmore said. "He just smiled and said, 'Pete, you'll do fine.'"
Skidmore talked about his time in Iraq and the need to take care of returning veterans. He did well enough to get invited back, and now he's on a first-name basis with a national phenomenon.
To open events around South Carolina in recent weeks, it was often Skidmore who welcomed Obama to the stage. Now, he may travel to Georgia to do the same thing.
"The second you say his name, the crowd goes crazy," Skidmore said.
At no time was that more true than Saturday night, when Skidmore looked out over a packed house and felt like a rock star before introducing Obama one more time. This time, his parents and five siblings joined in the cheers from their seats behind the stage.
Obama has given the Skidmores one more reason to be proud of Pete's service.
"He could've had anybody," said his father, Pete Skidmore Sr. "And he chose my son."