Donald Trump didn’t use one of his signature lines, “You’re hired!” when he offered the prospect of a job — in the middle of a Washington press conference in front of his soon-to-open luxury hotel — to Alicia Watkins, a woman wearing a “media” badge plucked from the press corps who had asked him whether he would hire veterans at the hotel.
But the mini job interview with Watkins, who identified herself as a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and a 9/11 survivor, was nevertheless a dramatic moment, one surely meant to underscore Trump’s decisiveness. “I have a gut instinct,” he said later when asked about the seemingly snap decision. “She seemed like a good person to me.”
Some reporters in the Trump scrum wondered about her press credentials. CNN media reporter Dylan Byers reported that the Trump campaign told him Watkins worked for “a site called Troops Media which focuses on military and veterans issues” a site that doesn’t appear to exist, as Byers noted in a tweet.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Watkins herself did little to clear up the mystery surrounding her unusual turn in the spotlight. She says she hasn’t finalized job discussions with the Trump camp. “It’s way too soon — I’m still in the works with that,” she said. And she wouldn’t talk about how she wound up at the event. “My goal was to ask a question,” she said. “And not only was my question answered, but I was given the opportunity to become an employee.”
As for suggestions that she was some kind of plant, Watkins sounded a Trump-ian note. “Most of the stuff out there is false, but that’s just reporters who have nothing good to say about anything.”
Here’s what we do know: The 38 year-old is a beauty queen, racking up titles including Ms. Maryland 2015 (the organizer of the small pageant recalls that Watkins was “very, very passionate” about her cause, wounded warriors) and Ms. Massachusetts U.S. in 2014.
She’s a reality TV figure (she appeared on an episode of TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress” last weekend in preparation for her upcoming wedding to Gaithersburg resident Kenneth Davis.) She appears to be a local: news reports variously describe her as living in D.C. or Gaithersburg, Md.
And she is a 10-year Air Force veteran who retired from the service in 2008 with the rank of staff sergeant, according to military records.
Beyond that, Watkins has a Zelig-like media profile, always seeming to drift in front of cameras.
In 2010, Oprah Winfrey featured her story in a segment titled “A Day in the Life of a Homeless Female Veteran,” in which Watkins documents her own struggles, living in a rented car and using hotel bathrooms, all the while while searching for a job.
In 2011, a photographer from Getty image snapped a photo of Watkins at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Watkins, identified as the survivor of the Pentagon bombings, was laying a purple heart by the name of a friend killed in the attacks. “Since then Watkins has created a charity in the name of her friend and roommate,” Getty reported.
In 2013, MassLive.com interviewed her as she waited for the arrival of President Obama in Boston following the Boston bombings, a small American flag in hand. The story describes her as an Air Force veteran injured in Afghanistan. “I never though I would have to deal with a war-time situation in Boston,” she told the reporter.
In 2014, she appeared in a local ABC news report about a “horse whisperer” who brings veterans with PTSD in contact with horses to help heal them. “I experienced IEDs, suicide bombers,” the story quotes Watkins saying. “I went through traumatic brain injury, also, within my military service, I was sexually assaulted.”
In a 2015 update to the Oprah segment, Watkins said she had moved in with a friend and pulled her life together. In 2012 she was accepted to Harvard, she said, and her college expenses are covered by the G.I. bill. She also said she’d recently gotten engaged on her birthday.
An internal Harvard directory identifies Watkins as being enrolled in the Harvard Extension School, a lower-cost program where students typically take classes part-time or online.
This post has been updated.