Tens of thousands of people from all over the Southeast packed onto the grounds of Admiral John H. Towers Field at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport to hear President Donald Trump speak Sunday night.
The crowd — estimated at more than 30,000 — was packed elbow to elbow when Air Force One touched down just before 9 p.m.
“By the way, crowds like this have never happened before,” said Trump, who was obviously energized by the crowd. “Two days from now we’re going to win this state again.”
Prior to the President’s speech, state Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, offered an opening prayer. She was followed on stage by Rep. Vernon Jones, D-Lithonia, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, former governor and now Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Sen. David Perdue.
Several local restaurant operators got word Saturday that they could come out and set up food sales for the crowd.
Courtney Otting of Ole Tymer BBQ, who didn’t leave the airport until after midnight, sold barbecue sandwiches all afternoon and right up until the time people were leaving after the speech.
Another local vendor, Doug Bowling of Doug’s Deli Downtown, also had a crew at the airport offering a variety of items from his menu.
“When this was proposed to us they were thinking there was going to be between 10,000 and 15,000 people here, so we were thinking this was going to be a great thing for us economically,” Bowling said while stirring a huge pot of grits.
The crowd included people from Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and all over the Southeast.
While the rally took place at the airport, evidence of supporters could be seen all over town — especially in Armuchee.
People were bused to the airport from remote parking sites including the Mount Berry Mall and Armuchee High School.
Trump supporters, or curiosity seekers, who didn’t want to ride a shuttle parked on the shoulders of U.S. 27 and walked to the airport along the side of the highway.
Some folks who tried to carry in flags and placards on poles were turned away at the gate and had to take their flags and banners back to the car.
Jim Moser, a Rome police officer, was among the law enforcement crowd on hand to help keep an eye on the crowd. He said it was “amazing” how the event was pulled off in a very short period of time after the President decided to visit Rome.
“Ample security was provided and the upper management of the Secret Service had a plan that was very impressive,” Moser said.
Bud Owens, director of Floyd Emergency Medical Service, said he was told there was about a 36-hour window in which the event was pulled together.
“We’ve been working with them the last two days to make sure we can protect everybody inside of this perimeter and take care of their medical needs,” Owens said. “We have 34 medics inside here, spread out and positioned to extract anyone with an illness or injury. It’s been a joy working with the Secret Service.”
Bleachers and a stage were set up on the aircraft taxiway and parking area between the terminal and main runway. The stage and primary viewing area was cordoned off by dozens of huge dump trucks loaded with stone to make sure no one could penetrate the primary crowd area.
“Thank you to all the local leaders, like Scotty Hancock and Dave Roberson and our local law enforcement who worked tirelessly to make the President’s visit possible,” Floyd GOP Chair Luke Martin said in a social media post. “Thank you to Layla Shipman, Jamie Palmer and Colt Chambers for all their work to help me manage volunteers and recruit food trucks.”
He also pointed out the behind the scenes role played by 14th Congressional District candidate Marjorie Greene.
“She worked hard behind the scenes to make sure the event was perfect,” Martin said. “I harassed the Trump campaign for 10 months about coming to Rome ... but we had only a little traction with them until Marjorie made the all out push for Rome.”
He also thanked all the volunteers, saying over 600 people responded to a volunteer call out.
“They put together a parking strategy and parked thousands of cars across multiple lots. They managed the crowd of people in line, they handed out masks and hand sanitizer and some even worked porta potty duty, escorting people to and from the bathroom,” Martin said.
The area was well lit but people were even packed into the back of the primary stage viewing area and terminal building.
After making the trip from Buford, Carla Henderson got in line at the airport at 2 p.m., two and a half hours before the gates opened.
“This is history and I didn’t want to miss it,” Henderson said. “I’ve never seen a president live.”
Making the drive from central Georgia, Terri West of McDonough said she was ecstatic to be a part of the event.
“He’s accomplished so many things,” she said.