FORT JACKSON, S.C. – South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and her family bid a tearful farewell to her husband Michael on Thursday as he departed with a National Guard unit for a month of training and then deployment to Afghanistan.
Capt. Michael Haley wrapped his arms around his wife and two children, ages 10 and 14, as his unit was given a send-off by several hundred family members, friends and Guard officials at a National Guard site outside Columbia.
The Republican governor issued a statement saying "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'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 of 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 South Carolina 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.
Michael 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.
Guard officials said Haley's background as a businessman would be helpful to the unit as it works with Afghan farmers to sell their crops and improve the ways they bring them to market.
Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr., State Adjutant General and head of the Guard, said Haley's 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, Livingston 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."
Haley's commander, Lt. Col. Todd Shealy, acknowledged there is always some danger when an individual 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.