Michael, Gov. Nikki Haley working on transition after first gentleman’s deployment

ashain@thestate.comDecember 18, 2013 

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    Online: See a video of the Haleys talking about the transition from Michael Haley’s overseas deployment at thestate.com.

The day after returning from a year-long military deployment in Afghanistan, S.C. first gentleman Michael Haley joined his wife, Gov. Nikki Haley, to watch their 12-year-old son’s basketball game and their 15-year-old daughter cheer and eat pizza.

But Michael Haley’s transition home remains a work in progress, the couple told The State on Wednesday in an extended interview about his deployment.

Just before Michael Haley came home last week with his S.C. National Guard agriculture-business unit, their son, Nalin, told his mother that he had a tough time thinking about life before his father left in January.

“ ‘I don’t remember what it was like when he was here,’ ” Gov. Haley recalled her son saying. “The kids have to get used to him (being around) again.”

While Michael Haley was deployed, the first family started eating on the second floor of the Governor’s Mansion instead of in the first-floor dining room. They did not like looking at the empty chair that belonged to Michael Haley, the governor said.

“You change your lifestyle to get through the days,” she said, sitting next to her husband in the mansion. “So when they come back, you have to transition back to either the old way or the new way and work it out together. It’s not just the hug that you see when you get home. There’s a few weeks of transition.”

Michael Haley, a captain in the National Guard, said he is having to adjust too, getting used to hearing all the noise of a city, for instance, after spending months in the desert of the Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan.

“Over there, you don’t hear anything,” he said. “There’s no streets, no automobiles going back and forth. There’s no birds even chirping.”

The closest Michael Haley said he came to danger during his deployment was twice riding in convoys that were struck by improvised explosive devices. In one blast, Haley was driving behind a vehicle that hit a bomb. No one was injured beyond bumps and bruises, he said.

“There were a few tense moments occasionally, but no bullets were flying,” he said. “Al-Qaida and the Taliban are somewhat in hiding.”

Michael Haley said his unit worked to educate local governments and the Afghan equivalent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture about sharing information with farmers about growing food crops and irrigation.

“Everything is still back in the late 1800s, early 1900s, there,” he said. Michael Haley said the biggest eye-opener of his deployment was the trickiness of balancing military and political missions.

“They’re really oil and water,” said Haley, who gets 30 days off before returning to his job with the Guard in strategic planning. “What you want to do militarily, you can’t always do. Even though you know it might be the right thing (militarily) and you can attack it, politically it’s going to cause some disarray.”

During her husband’s deployment, Nikki Haley said she worked to put aside her worries about her husband and family while governing the state. She also said she learned “not to sweat the small stuff.”

“The fact there might be politics played at the State House or the little petty games that go back and forth, I just don’t care about that,” she said. “The big things matter. You remember ... to be thankful for health and happiness and love.”

Gov. Haley, a first-term Republican from Lexington, said she does not see her husband’s overseas mission — the first by a spouse of a sitting governor to a war zone — helping her politically as she seeks re-election next year.

“What I want people to remember is that I’m a military spouse that happens to be a governor,” she said. “We know what military families go through. ... So it gives us another aspect of the population that we happen to relate to.”

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