MADEIRA BEACH, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday discussed the renewed Florida State Guard at a news conference in Pinellas County, announcing retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Chris Graham as its new director.
Graham, who DeSantis lauded as the right man for the job, said he was honored to be tapped for the role.
“I think this unit has a particularly important mission. As Floridians, you guys know the last hurricane’s behind us and the next hurricane’s on the horizon, and anything we can do to help, I want to help as this functions as a state defense force also. I want to build in whatever capabilities are constructive and helpful in that regard,” Graham said.
The governor made the announcement at American Legion Post 273 in Madeira Beach, where he reiterated that the FSG exists in part as a militaristic occupation for Floridians who don’t want to be subjected to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, as service members are by the Department of Defense.
“Biden’s making them do it, but you’re kicking out really good people. It is not helping good order and discipline; it’s hurting good order and discipline when you marginalize people who have done it right and worked hard and sacrificed themselves for our country,” DeSantis said. “...We saw an opportunity to say, ‘You know, we don’t want to have military imposing some of this stuff with the vax, we understand there’s gonna be people that may be out of work, and we need more support because we have hurricanes, we have we have people in need, we have things that require response.’”
The Florida State Guard, formerly a WWII-era state defense force active from 1944-47, will officially be revitalized once $10 million in funding granted by the legislature takes effect July 1, DeSantis said. The governor first announced his intent to reestablish the FSG in December 2021, billing it then as a way to shorten response time in natural disasters.
Following the state’s announcement early this month that the FSG was looking for 400 members, DeSantis said over 1,200 people have now applied. The governor also criticized the fact that the federal government gets to decide when and where members of the conventional National Guard are deployed, framing the FSG as an independent remedy.
“The Florida State Guard will be comprised of Floridians, and it will be designed to assist and help only Floridians who will not be subjected to be mobilized by the federal government, and the federal government cannot impose policies or penalties on the Florida State Guard,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis was joined by Air Force Maj. Gen. James O. Eifert, adjutant general of the Florida National Guard, and retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. James S. Hartsell, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The three were last together Thursday at a news conference in Okaloosa County, where the governor signed six bills meant to enhance occupational and educational opportunities for service members, veterans and military families.
At the conference Wednesday, Eifert said the FSG will help address Florida’s shrinking ratio of guard members to civilians.
“Florida’s the third most populous state in the nation, but we’re ranked at the bottom 53 out of 54 states and territories when comparing the size of our state civilian population to our National Guard, and as more and more people are drawn to our state every day, that ratio shrinks every day,” Eifert said. “This problem can only be corrected by decision makers at the national level to allocate additional force structure in the National Guard to Florida. The National Guard Bureau in Washington D.C., however, has failed to produce the force structure allocation to our state that we desperately need to grow. So with great vision and foresight, our state’s elected leaders have created this new force for good in Florida, the Florida State Guard.”
Learn more about the FSG on its website.