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Florida State Guard graduates first class of over 100 soldiers

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(The Center Square) – The Florida State Guard welcomed its first graduating class of more than 100 soldiers who recently completed their training program and requirements.

They are the first class of members of the Florida State Guard since 1947.

Gov. Ron DeSantis first proposed reestablishing the State Guard in December 2021. Within months, he reestablished it to lessen the burden of an understaffed and over-stretched Florida National Guard and to hire servicemen and women being forced out of the U.S. military over the federal vaccine mandate, he said.

By June of last year, over 1,200 people applied to join the new state guard – three times the amount of open positions. One of its newest recruits was a former New York resident who said he moved to the lower-taxed and less regulated “free state of Florida.”

“I am proud to welcome the first class of Florida State Guard members since 1947,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Even though the federal government has underfunded our National Guard, we are ensuring that we have the manpower needed to respond during emergencies. I’m proud of these men and women who answered the call to take on this important mission. When the need is greatest in their communities, these Guard members will be ready to answer the call.”

Florida has one of the most understaffed National Guards in the U.S. Out of 54 states and territories, the Florida National Guard has the second worst resident-to-guardsman ratio, the governor’s office said. Since 1958, there have been only 12,000 troops despite Florida’s population growing four-fold. In 1958, Florida had 5 million residents, now it is the third-most populous state with over 22 million residents.

Allocating more national guard slots to Florida “hasn’t been something Congress or the executive branch has been willing to do,” DeSantis said when announcing over 1,200 had applied to join by last June. “In the meantime, we saw an opportunity to say, ‘we don’t want to have military imposing some of this stuff with the vax, we understand there’s going to be more people out of work and we need more support … and the easiest way to expand [the National Guard] was to restart” the state guard, he said.

Led by retired Marine Corps. Lieutenant Colonel Chris Graham, the state guard is armed like the Florida National Guard and ready to mobilize to respond to disasters. It can’t be deployed by the federal government or serve outside of Florida.

The Florida State Guard’s civilian volunteer force was initially established in 1941 to provide similar services as the National Guard. It was deployed during World War II and only operational for six years.

Skilled Floridians with emergency response, law enforcement, or military training are encouraged to apply to join. Qualifications include having a valid Florida driver’s license, being able to work in a stressful and team environment, pass a physical exam, participate in weekend training, among other qualifications.

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