EXCLUSIVE Michael Haley: No better way to represent S.C. than in the Guard

abeam@thestate.comMay 23, 2013 

Gov. Nikki Haley and First Gentleman Michael Haley on the State House grounds just outside of Gov. Haley's office when Michael Haley was home for a two-week furlough from his Afghanistan military deployment in May.

ADAM BEAM/ABEAM@THESTATE.COM

— When Nikki Haley became South Carolina’s first woman governor in 2010, her husband, Michael, had to reinvent the role of the chief executive’s spouse.

In January, Capt. Haley, 43, became the first spouse of a sitting governor to deploy to a combat zone with the National Guard, according to the National Guard Association, leaving on a year-long mission to Afghanistan as a member of a 47-member agriculture-training group from the S.C. National Guard.

“I don’t think there is any better way for me to represent South Carolina than being in the Guard,” Haley said Thursday, in an interview with The State at the State House, while home from Afghanistan on a two-week furlough. “That’s one of the reasons I joined the Guard. It’s not only federal service but also state service, too.”

Haley joined the Guard in 2006, while his wife was a state representative. U.S. soldiers in a war zone can take a two-week furlough during their deployment.

Haley has been in Helmand Province, working with the local government to replace the region’s poppy crop -- used to produce opium, the main ingredient for heroin, that often is sold for weapons by the Taliban -- with food crops.

“We’ll never replace the poppy. We’ve come to that realization,” Haley said. “But one of the things we have noticed, over the past year or two, is that the food zone, where it was 80 percent poppy, is now true crops. ...

“You’re basically building an economy, bringing an awareness to Helmand which, 30 years ago, was very fluent in a lot of produce -- nuts and fruits and things like that.”

Haley said he has acquired an Afghan nickname, given to him by the U.S. Marines in Helmand -- FGOSC (pronounced “fuh GOSK”), short for “first gentleman of South Carolina,” in the same style as FLOTUS, which stands for “first lady of the United States.” But, Haley said he does not feel like South Carolina’s first gentleman while in Afghanistan, just “part of the bunch.”

Haley said he took precautions to ensure his presence in Afghanistan is not considered political when he is dealing with local Afghan governments. “There were a few people that knew my position here, and we didn’t want anything to come across as being political,” he said.

While he has avoided Afghan politics, Haley said he has kept up with S.C. politics, continuing to receive daily press clippings sent out by Gov. Nikki Haley’s communications office. (“It seems like everything is going well here,” he said.)

And he said he feels lucky to be deployed at a time when technology allows him to video chat regularly with his family. “We’ve been able to keep in good contact, but, of course, it never replaces physically being there.”

Haley was in Afghanistan in April during the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon, where two bombs exploded at the finish line, killing three people and injuring 264. Haley said the attack “just reinforces why we are there (in Afghanistan).”

“It also, at least for me, it made me realize this issue and problem isn’t going away,” Haley said. “It’s going to become more of a worldwide international problem, and I think, just from the sheer fact as the world becomes more flat, as ... people (are) able to travel more and all that, it’s going to be an increased issue.”

Haley said he will return to Afghanistan a week from Monday. He should be back in South Carolina from his deployment by the end of the year.

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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