First Gentleman Michael Haley deployed for Afghanistan today with other members of his agriculture training group. He left with the other 46 members of his S.C. National Guard unit following a ceremony at the guard’s McCrady Training Facility at Fort Jackson.
Gov. Nikki Haley sat on the second row of the audience during the 45-minute ceremony with other family members. She was accompanied by son Nalin, 10, daughter Rena, 14, and other members of her and her husband’s families.
The governor did not speak and did not take questions from the press, but she did issue a statement:
“We are a proud military family who understands the sacrifices any family goes through when a loved one is serving his or her country. This is what our men and women in uniform sign up for, and although Michael, like his brothers and sisters, is looking forward to his mission, we will miss him while he’s away. Rena, Nalin and I are proud of Michael and will pray for his -- and all others’ -- safe return.”
The governor fought back tears as she hugged her husband just prior to his boarding a bus for Camp Atterbury. Ind. The unit will undergo another month of training there before shipping off to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, for an 11-month deployment.
The unit, a group of agricultural and business professionals chosen to make up the unit, will teach Afghanis farming techniques and methods to market their products.
U.S. Sen Lindsay Graham, who was on hand for the sendoff, said the unit’s mission was key to the next phase of the war in Afghanistan, which was teaching Afghanis to be responsible for their own security, economy and governance.
“You are now the tip of the spear,” he told the soldiers, members of the Agriculture Development Team 3/49.
Graham said the war in Afghanistan was necessary because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States and that the insurgents led by the Taliban should be defeated.
“In their world, little girls can’t go to school. In our world, little girls become governor,” he said.
Unit Commander Lt. Col. Todd Shealy of Leesville acknowledged that the first gentleman is the husband of a national figure and said the unit will take added precautions to keep him safe.
“It does make him more of a target,” said Shealy, a hobby farmer and bee keeper in civilian life. “We know our enemy is technologically savvy. They probably watch the news more than we do, and they will be looking for a prominent figure.”
Private first class Patrick Parker of Ridgeland, a military policeman, trained and will deploy with Haley.
“He’s just an average soldier. We don’t look at him any other way,” Parker said. “He wears the uniform just like me.”
There are 12,000 members of the S.C. National Guard, but over the past decade there have been 16,000 individual deployments. Some National Guard soldiers and airmen have been deployed four or five times to hot spots such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo.
Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston, S.C. Adjutant General and commander of the National Guard, said he expects Haley to do his job while deployed like any other soldier and the guard will assist the Haley family at home like any other military family.
“He’s a soldier, and I expect him to be a soldier,” he said. “This is a small but significant piece of a very large picture of South Carolina families and citizen soldiers putting the good of the nation and the state above themselves. I will put my arms around the Haley family just like I put my arms around all of our families.”