COLUMBIA — No wonder Gov. Nikki Haley's public schedule was so light after Tuesday.
S.C. First Gentleman Michael Haley's agriculture-training National Guard unit returns to Columbia on Thursday after nearly a year in Afghanistan.
The captain's deployment added to a list of firsts for Haley, who is South Carolina's first female and first minority governor. She also is the first sitting governor to have a spouse deployed to a combat zone.
Michael Haley's stint overseas changed some perceptions for a sometimes divisive governor.
Nikki Haley, the wife and mother, ended up sharing the spotlight with Nikki Haley, the politician, while her husband worked to convince Afghan farmers swap poppy crops for food crops.
The deployment humanized the governor to the public from her tearful good-bye at his unit's departure in January to the humorous story of locking herself out of the Governor's Mansion in her robe.
She used her Facebook page not only to post photos of her husband in Afghanistan but share messages of managing through his absence.
"Life of a spouse whose loved one is deployed: your mornings are his nights, happy/sad moments are put on hold (because) you have to email them and wait for a response, days run together," she posted in October.
Michael Haley's military service also bolsters the governor's narrative and pro-military stance in a re-election rematch with Democrat Vincent Sheheen next year and, if she wins, to any national ambitions in 2016 and beyond.
She mentioned her husband and posted a photo of him in a Facebook post about Veteran's Day. She received loud applause when his name came up at speaking engagements. The governor smiled at a news conference this summer when she revealed she shot the same type of M249 machine gun issued to her husband during a tour of a Columbia arms maker.
Nikki Haley went through the experience of thousands of spouses who shared loved ones with Uncle Sam -- a powerful message for potential voters who honor her family's sacrifice.
Some might choose to do so at the ballot box.
For now, Haley's next step comes at roughly 12:30 p.m. Thursday near the Columbia airport.
Update Michael Haley posted this on Facebook today:
"It has been a great tour, but long 11 months in Afghanistan. I am very much looking forward to coming home to my family and the great state of South Carolina! I digress and reflect on the discerning words of Forest Gump who said 'I think I'll go home now.' "
On the road
The legislative Joint Transportation Review Committee will meet Thursday to screen five candidates for three seats on the S.C. Department of Transportation Commission. (11 a.m. Thursday, Gressette Room 209. Agenda with candidates list)
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