Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday appointed retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Chris Graham to serve as Director of the recently-revived Florida State Guard. Graham will be tasked with leading lead 400 guardsmen in disaster relief and civil matters across the state.
Set to activate July 1, the State Guard looks to take over civic duties typically handled by Florida’s National Guard. Since 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, the Florida National Guard has been activated more than 90 times in response to in-state natural disasters, contributing 1.5 million workdays – 834,000 between 2016-21 alone – to disaster response.
“Thank you for your trust and confidence in this position, I think it’s a very sensitive position,” Graham said. “This is a time where we all face a lot of challenges. I want to do my part, I want to help however I can.”
DeSantis in the state budget allocated $10 million for the training of state guard members. Members of the state guard will report directly to DeSantis rather than the federal government.
“We want to be able to have a quick response capability and re-establishing the Florida State Guard will allow civilians from all over the state to be trained in the best emergency response techniques and have the ability to mobilize very, very quickly,” said DeSantis.
DeSantis also reiterated a point made during a press conference last week, controversially touting the civil volunteer unit as a means of service for members of the military that were forcibly removed from duty due to noncompliance with vaccine mandates.
“One of the reasons we’re here today actually goes back to other Biden policies,” DeSantis said. “When he came into office, he decided to impose a COVID vaccine mandate on the U.S. military. You had a situation where most people in our military are at the lowest of the lowest risk for COVID, to begin with. Many of them had already had COVID and recovered in 2020 into 2021, and yet he has imposed these mandates on them. And that has had the impact of kicking people out who had served honorably, who had decided this was not what they want to do.”
The Florida State Guard first existed to serve as a stateside replacement for the Florida National Guard while the National Guard was deployed abroad during World War II, and was open to all men in Florida aged 18 to 63. The original state guard was largely comprised of World War I veterans and carried out duties that included guarding infrastructure, protecting against sabotage, calming riots, and aiding law enforcement.