FORT JACKSON — Gov. Nikki Haley and her family bid a tearful farewell Thursday to her husband Michael as he left with a S.C. National Guard unit for a month of training and deployment to Afghanistan.
Capt. Michael Haley wrapped his arms around his wife and two children as his unit was given a send-off by several hundred family members, friends and Guard officials at a National Guard site at Fort Jackson outside Columbia.
The governor declined to speak with reporters at the event, and her office issued a statement on her behalf as the group of 48 soldiers left in a bus for Camp Atterbury, Ind.
“We are a proud military family who understands the sacrifices any family goes through when a loved one is serving his or her country,” Haley said.
She said her husband is looking forward to his mission, but she and her children will miss him.
“Rena, Nalin and I are proud of Michael and will pray for his – and all others’ – safe return,” she said.
Haley’s spokesman, Rob Godfrey, said the governor’s office is not aware of any other governor’s spouse who is deployed with the uniformed military. A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, said he could not answer the question whether any governor’s spouses were deployed military and instead referred calls to each of the separate military service branches.
After Gov. Haley hugged their 10-year-old son Nalin and 14-year-old daughter Rena, the governor wrapped her arms around her husband and buried her head in his shoulder. Family members crowded around the small group, many wiping away tears. The governor stepped away, dabbing her nose with a handkerchief as she appeared to be fighting back tears, after giving her husband multiple kisses.
Haley’s unit is not scheduled to return to South Carolina before departing on its yearlong mission. It is the third S.C. Army National Guard group to spend a year working with Afghan farmers to improve farming practices. It is formally known as the 3-49th Agribusiness Development Team and will work in Helmand province.
Haley joined the guard as an officer in 2006. This will be his first deployment overseas.
He has served as a medical service corps officer and a planning officer in the Guard’s Columbia headquarters.
Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., State Adjutant General and head of the 11,000-member Guard, came over to pat Capt. Haley on the back, as the two-star general did with many of those departing.
Livingston, who commanded the state’s largest contingent ever to serve in Afghanistan in 2007 to 2008, said the job done by the citizen-soldiers of South Carolina began as an experiment that has since thrived. His last major command took 1,800 soldiers from the Newberry-based 218th Brigade Combat Team to Afghanistan in 2007 for a yearlong deployment.
“Peace broke out in a 50-mile radius because people saw that our agricultural team was there to help them,” Livingston said. He said the unit has trained for months to better understand the rudimentary nature of Afghan agriculture.
But no special treatment is being accorded Haley because his wife happens to be governor, he said.
“Each soldier, each family is special to us, and the Haleys are part of our National Guard family,” he said. “He has always been and always will be treated like any other soldier.”
“We appreciate and are indebted to our South Carolina National Guard soldiers, airmen and families for the sacrifices they have made over the past 11-plus years of war,” the two-star general said.
Haley’s commander, Lt. Col. Todd Shealy acknowledged that there is always some danger when an individual who is in the public eye serves as a soldier in a combat region, and mentioned the military service in Afghanistan of Britain’s Prince Harry.
“It does make him more of a target,” Shealy said of Haley. “But there are some particular things to do to minimize that threat,” he added, pointedly not defining what they might be.
“We want Capt. Haley to be allowed to be Capt. Haley,” he added.
The agricultural mission by the National Guard in Afghanistan began in 2008. Units from nine states have worked in the country over the years.
The effort is geared at turning Afghan farmers away from growing poppies, which supports an opiate drug trade and subsidizes the Taliban.
The Afghan farmers have few mechanical aids, but many of their crops are similar to those grown in the southeastern U.S.
Many of the crops include cotton, peanuts, corn, wheat and barley, and vegetables including cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, okra and melons.