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Six months after first proposing the idea — and drawing national attacks from Democrats and the mainstream media — Florida Gov. Ronald DeSantis on Wednesday officially announced the re-establishment of the Florida State Guard.
“The U.S. military has been kicking out great service members over the Biden administration’s unacceptable COVID vaccine mandate, and they are even targeting members of the National Guard,” DeSantis said, according to a news release from his office.
The governor said restoring the State Guard, which had been dormant since its 1947 disbandment, would broaden the state’s capacity to assist residents during times of crisis.
Gov. Ron DeSantis unveils the Florida State Guard and introduces the FSG’s first director. https://t.co/QCMBytFzRM — Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) June 15, 2022
DeSantis appointed retired Marine Lt. Col. Chris Graham, a Miami native, as director of the Florida State Guard.
Graham enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17, after which he served in the Counter Drug Branch’s Coalition and Special Warfare Division before becoming a pilot and serving in casualty evacuation missions during the 2003 Iraq War’s invasion phase.
Graham then served as a joint terminal attack controller, directing air support for unites engaged in offensive operations.
He was then called on to become a founding member of the Marine Corps’ now-deactivated Antiterrorism Battalion, where he served as task force commander.
“Two months ago I retired from the Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel after two decades plus of service, and once I saw the opening to become the director of the State Guard, I decided that two months of retirement was all I needed,” Graham said, according to the news release.
“This is an unbelievable privilege to reestablish and build from the ground up a modern state defense force. Florida will be joining 22 other states and territories with state guards, but we have an opportunity to break new ground and deliver a 10-fold investment for Floridians.”
Florida also suffers from having a short-staffed National Guard, which is still at the same level of Guardsmen it had in 1958, when Florida had only 5 million residents, according to the news release. With a population of almost 22 million now, Florida is the third most populous state in the country.
Despite requests from the state, the federal government has refused to authorize an expansion of the 12,000-strong Florida National Guard to make up for the state’s growing population, according to the governor’s office. “
In a natural disaster-prone state such as Florida with a potentially active hurricane season on the horizon, there is a clear and present need for a larger civilian emergency response force,” the news release stated.
According to the Florida State Guard website, the number of personnel who can be “commissioned, enrolled, or employed” in the State Guard will be capped at 400. More than 1,200 individuals have already shown an interest in joining, according to the news release.
State defense forces or State Guards differ from state National Guards in that they are wholly under the command of a state’s governor and cannot be federalized.
That means the State Guard will not be subject to restrictions like a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
“The Florida State Guard will be comprised of Floridians, and it’ll be designed to assist and help only Floridians. It will not be subject to be mobilized by the federal government, and the federal government cannot impose policies or penalties on the Florida State Guard,” DeSantis said during a Wednesday news conference, according to The Washington Examiner.
“There are opportunities where people still want to serve, but they want to serve based on their conscience,” DeSantis said. DeSantis originally proposed the idea of the State Guard in December, saying it would “allow civilians from all over the state to be trained in the best emergency response techniques and have the ability to mobilize very, very quickly.”
He was immediately criticized by figures on the left, such as MSNBC’s Joy Reid, who called it “fascisty-bananas,” in a Twitter post.
CNN publicized the news in a Twitter post with the ominous-sounding summary: “Gov. Ron DeSantis proposes a new civilian military force in Florida that he would control.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis proposes a new civilian military force in Florida that he would control https://t.co/uO1xR39VyA — CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) December 3, 2021
Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat competing to challenge DeSantis in the November governor’s race, compared the idea to a Hitler, and DeSantis wanting his “own militia.”
But as other commentators pointed out at the time, the idea is hardly unique to the Sunshine State. Twenty-two states and territories, aside from Florida, have such forces, according to the governor’s office news release.
Depending on the state or territory in question, these forces are called state military, state military force, state guard, state militia, or state military reserve.
During World War II, the Florida State Guard’s First Air Squadron played a crucial role in safeguarding the state and the nation by patrolling waters near state shores for German U-boats.