COLUMBIA - Capt. Michael Haley said that improvised explosive devices hit his convoy twice during his deployment to Afghanistan, but thankfully no one on his team was seriously injured.
Gov. Nikki Haley and her husband talked to The Associated Press Wednesday, a week after he and about 40 of his fellow South Carolina Army National Guard soldiers returned home. It was the first time Capt. Haley addressed his service in Afghanistan's Helmand province, which he likened to the Wild West.
"Seeing him, I felt like I took my first breath in a year," Gov. Haley said. "I think we will just appreciate this Christmas more because you truly do understand your blessings. When you know you could lose a loved one and to think of that every day, it reminds you truly to be thankful for what you have, and it really helps you understand that a lot of the small things don't matter."
Capt. Haley said he was never fearful, but there were tense moments, such as the roadside bombs. In one instance, he was driving the vehicle directly behind the explosion and performed the recovery. His reaction, he said, was methodical, as per his training.
Haley's unit left in January for a month of training in Indiana before heading overseas. It was his first overseas deployment since he joined the Army National Guard as an officer in 2006. The experience, he said, changed his perspective about military life.
Haley's unit worked as part of an agricultural support team, helping Afghan farmers turn from growing opium to growing other crops profitable enough to sustain their communities. The economy of Helmand relies solely on agriculture, with the Taliban and al-Qaida getting much of its money from the cultivation of poppy there, he said.
He spent three months as a liaison to the province's equivalent to the Department of Agriculture, before another team took his place, and he began working with the locals in three other districts.
"They're very proud. They are determined," he said of the local farmers. "There's a lot of hindrance and things holding them back, but they definitely want to advance and move ahead. They want a better life for themselves."
The Haleys said they were able to communicate almost daily, though mostly by email. The time difference made it difficult.
"There's a lot lost in translation," he said. "You don't get the emotion, the humor you get in one-on-one communication on the telephone or physically being there." Getting after-the-fact emails about family events, he added, was like "looking back in the rearview mirror at your life over the past year."
As for the comforts of home, he said he most missed good meals and hot showers.