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DeSantis touts more National Guard spending

DeSantis
Screenshot by WUWF Public Media
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Gov. Ron DeSantis dropped by Pensacola on Thursday, to announce plans to spend more on the Florida National Guard, and the proposed return of a World War II-era organization.

“We’re recommending more than $100 million to ensure they have the means necessary to carry out their mission,” the governor said. “Whether that be the federal functions; [or] whether that’s supporting disaster recovery and relief operations here in Florida.”

Speaking at the National Guard Armory on Grow Drive, DeSantis said that includes more than $87 million to expand the existing readiness center in Miramar, along with three new armories around the state — which will house about 1,500 Guard members.

“We’re also going to do $8.9 million for existing armory maintenance; and $2.2 million dollars for new headquarters for the National Guard Counter Drug Program,” he said. “And finally, $5.1 million will be earmarked to support Florida national guardsmen seeking higher education.”

For active-duty military and veterans, the governor is proposing $12.2 million in scholarships for children and spouses of deceased or disabled veterans; $3.6 million for base infrastructure and support projects.

“The National Guard here in Florida has answered the call time and time again; in the Panhandle, we had National Guard supporting with a Category-5 hurricane [Michael in 2018],” said DeSantis. “And we’ve seen other instances throughout Florida’s recent history where the National Guard was on the front lines of those disaster recovery and response efforts.”

“Your Florida National Guard has worked more days — and state response missions — in the past two years than they’ve done in the previous 20 years,” said Major Gen. Jim Eifert, the commanding officer of the 12,000-member-strong Florida National Guard.

“Serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic; and protecting life and property during times of civil unrest; and providing relief and support to our neighbors during natural disasters,” he said. “On top of that, deploying more than 25,000 Florida guardsmen in support of federal missions since 9/11.”

DeSantis’ proposal — to be considered in the 2022 legislative session that begins next month — is called by Eifert the most substantial investment in the Guard in its history.

“These investments will help us maintain our readiness and hopefully grow our force; enabling us to continue ensuring the safety and security of the citizens of Florida,” Eifert said. “And we look forward to proudly continuing our 456-year legacy of service to this great state.”

“We also want to make sure that we have the flexibility and the ability to respond to events in our state in the most effective way possible,” the governor said.

While in Pensacola, the governor announced he also wants $3.5 million to resurrect the Florida State Guard — which ran from 1941-47. He says it would be made up of civilian volunteers.

“They’ll have the ability to assist the National Guard in state-specific emergencies, DeSantis said. “This funding will support the necessary training, equipment, and other support functions for up to 200 members who can aid in response to hurricanes, natural disasters, and have the ability to mobilize very, very quickly.”

The main difference between a state guard and the National Guard is that the former can only be activated by the state’s governor — and not the president. If approved, Florida would join roughly 20 other states with similar organizations.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.