As of this month, state Sen. Doug Broxson is kicking off a one-year term as Chair of the Florida Defense Support Task Force.
Broxson (R-Pensacola) was named by Senate President Bill Galvano to the post after originally placed on the task force by then-President Joe Negron.
“I was the chair two years ago; it’s rotated back to me,” said Broxson. “It’s really been a great honor to go and meet all of our military around the state, and see how the community supports their bases.”
The mission of the task force — formed by the Legislature as a part of Enterprise Florida — is to preserve, protect, and enhance Florida’s 21 installations and their individual missions.
“In 2012 the Legislature kind of had an epiphany and said, ‘hey, the military is a major contributor to our economy – about $80 billion,'" said Broxson. “And rather than just waiting for Washington to react to what they do, why don’t we be a little more proactive?”
In this case, “proactive” includes sending a team to D.C. on a weekly basis to find out what’s going on, and meeting with the base commanders about their operations and how they interact with their communities.
“Making sure that our military bases are in good shape; and that they’re not being encroached on by any businesses or activity, and that they can run their missions properly,” Broxson says. “We certainly appreciate them coming to Florida; we want them to stay in Florida. But we also want to send a strong message that we’re a pro-military state.”
Along with the other challenges of overseeing 21 military installations is the separate challenge involving one — Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City. Hurricane Michael and its Category-5 winds caused $2 billion in damages last October. The higher-ups in the military, says Broxson, initially didn’t see the economic value of keeping it open. Then Congressman Matt Gaetz, then-Gov. Rick Scott and current Gov. Ron DeSantis stepped in.
“You talk about making lemonade out of a lemon; [Tyndall] was on the verge of closing,” says Broxson. “The task force got involved [and] now what’s going to happen now is not only are they going to build it back bigger and stronger than it was before, but we’re getting a fleet of F-35s that will stabilize the future of that base.”
Aside from Tyndall, another of the task force’s biggest jobs is holding off any future round of Base Realignment and Closure – BRAC – a true “four letter word” for any military-friendly state such as Florida. Broxson leaves no grey area on the subject.
“We don’t want a BRAC in Florida; they can have BRAC everyplace else,” Broxson said. “But if we do it right, if we protect the missions of every base and they have a clear message that the state of Florida is going to do what it takes financially – and from a manpower standpoint – we don’t think we should be in the crosshairs of any future BRAC. And that’s what the task force carries out every month.”
The task force is scheduled to meet with Santa Rosa County officials on July 17 to 18 at NAS Whiting Field. Not only does Broxson contend the 21 bases statewide are vital to the nation’s defense, those in the Panhandle also carry a lot of economic clout.
“Two-thirds of the economy in Okaloosa County is driven by military operations; a third in Escambia and a third in Santa Rosa,” Broxson says. ‘Unlike the rest of the state, one part of our economic leg is absolutely the military. And it would be devastating to see any readjustment and base alignment that would involve the Panhandle.”
Enter Triumph Gulf Coast – which oversees distribution of 75% of the $2 billion settlement with BP over the 2010 oil spill, in the eight affected coastal counties. That means 25% — $500 million — is left in state coffers at the discretion of legislators such as State Sen. Doug Broxson.
“That’s why Triumph is so important to build a ‘4th leg’ of our economy,” says Broxson. “They’re doing a great job and we’re seeing results of that – not only Navy Federal, but ST Engineering, Eastern Shipyard, plus some other projects that are happening around the Panhandle. I’m optimistic about the future.”
Other duties charged to the Florida Defense Support Task Force include improving transportation access and helping bases meet the Pentagon’s renewable energy goals. Additionally, the Task Force works to strengthen state support for military families and veterans — with a focus on education, health care, employment, and family programs.