MADEIRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s governor announced the first director of a newly reactivated Florida State Guard on Wednesday to bolster the state’s National Guard with a focus on responding to disasters in the hurricane-prone region.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said the director of the re-upped force would be retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Chris Graham, an Iraq veteran and former intelligence and anti-terrorism officer.
“I think this unit has a particularly important mission,” Graham said at a news conference in Madeira Beach, Florida. “As Floridians, you guys know, the last hurricane’s behind us, the next hurricane’s on the horizon. Anything we can do to help, I want to help.”
Graham said he would also like the new force to contribute the state's defense capabilities. He said there were 1,200 applicants already for 400 volunteer positions with a stipend for training sessions, but welcomed more volunteers to reach out. The Florida National Guard, in comparison, has about 12,000 members.
About half of the U.S. states have active defense forces under the sole authority of the state governments, including big states such as California, Texas and New York. Florida’s state guard was created in 1941 to backfill National Guard members deployed in World War II, but was disbanded in 1947.
DeSantis proposed to reactivate it three-quarters of a century later, and the Legislature this year authorized $10 million for that.
The head of the Florida National Guard, Adjutant Gen. Jim Eifert, said the National Guard has allocated to Florida nearly the lowest level of staffing per citizen among U.S. states and territories, leaving the state’s National Guard stretched ”razor thin.”
The ”trained civilian volunteer work force” of the new state guard might help relieve the ”wear and tear” on the National Guard following a busy couple of years responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, civil strife and storms, Eifert said.