Capt. Michael Haley wrapped his arms around his wife and two children as his unit was given a send-off by several hundred family members, friends and Guard officials at a National Guard site at Fort Jackson outside Columbia.
The governor declined to speak with reporters at the event, and her office issued a statement on her behalf as the group of 48 soldiers left in a bus for Camp Atterbury, Ind.
“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 said.
She said that her husband is looking forward to his mission but that she and her children will miss him.
“Rena, Nalin and I are proud of Michael and will pray for his – and all others’ – safe return,” she said.
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.
Haley joined the guard as an officer in 2006. This will be his first deployment overseas.
Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., the state adjutant general and head of the 11,000-member Guard, came over to pat Capt. Haley on the back.
“Each soldier, each family is special to us, and the Haleys are part of our National Guard family,” Livingston said. “He has always been and always will be treated like any other soldier.”
“We appreciate and are indebted to our South Carolina National Guard soldiers, airmen and families for the sacrifices they have made over the past 11-plus years of war,” the two-star general said.
Haley’s commander, Lt. Col. Todd Shealy acknowledged that there is always some danger when an individual who is 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.
The agricultural mission by the National Guard in Afghanistan began in 2008. Units from nine states have worked in the country over the years.
The effort is geared at turning Afghan farmers away from growing poppies, which supports an opiate drug trade and subsidizes the Taliban.
The Afghan farmers have few mechanical aids, but many of their crops are similar to those grown in the southeastern U.S.
The crops include cotton, peanuts, corn, wheat and barley, and vegetables including cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, okra and melons.