(The Center Square) – More than 1,200 people have applied to the newly reestablished Florida State Guard to fill 400 open positions – and one of its newest recruits is a former New York resident who said he moved to the lower-taxed and less regulated “free state of Florida.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis reestablished the state guard to lessen the burden of an understaffed and over-stretched Florida National Guard and to hire servicemen and women being forced out of the U.S. military over the federal vaccine mandate, he said.
Florida has one of the most understaffed National Guards nationwide, with the second worst resident-to-guardsman ratio. Its force of roughly 12,000 troops is currently a ratio of one guard member per 1,750 Floridians.
“The U.S. military has been kicking out great service members over the Biden administration’s unacceptable COVID vaccine mandate, and they are even targeting members of the National Guard,” DeSantis said. “The bureaucrats in D.C. who control our National Guard have also refused to increase the number of guardsmen despite our increasing population, leaving Florida with the second worst National Guardsman to resident ratio. By reestablishing the Florida State Guard under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Graham, we have a great opportunity to expand our capability to help people in times of need or disaster.”
Adjutant General of the Florida National Guard Jim Eifert said the Florida National Guard remains ready to help but has been stretched razor thin. Over the past 30 years, it’s responded to over 90 state emergency activations, totaling more than 1.5 million workdays. Nearly one-third of those days occurred in the last 2.5 years, he said.
Allocating more national guard slots to Florida “hasn’t been something Congress or the executive branch has been willing to do,” DeSantis said. “In the meantime, we saw an opportunity to say, ‘we don’t want to have military imposing some of this stuff with the vax, we understand there’s going to be more people out of work and we need more support … and the easiest way to expand [the National Guard] was to restart” the state guard, he said.
DeSantis tapped retired Marine Corps. Lieutenant Colonel Chris Graham to lead the state guard, building it from the ground up. Graham will act as the right-hand man of Eifert, who also serves as the commanding general of the Florida State Guard.
Graham said it was his goal that “every person in Florida who wants to help” applies to join the state guard.
One of his newest recruits is a former New York State Guard member and former New York resident who relocated to Florida, Paul Hanson.
Hanson said he moved to Florida for “many of the usual reasons. Sunshine, winter baseball and the opportunity to keep a little bit more of what I earn. It’s the governor’s leadership that for me was the deciding factor, not just on this issue but also on a lot of things we’ve seen over the past few years.”
Florida doesn't assess an income tax on workers in the state. New York assesses a graduated income tax rate of up to 8.82% depending on an individual's income.
Hanson joined the New York State Guard in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and expressed his enthusiasm to using his skills in the “free state of Florida.”
“State guards are not unique,” he said, adding that nearly half of the states have them. “But it is a uniquely American institution that exists within the framework of our federal system.”
Florida joins 22 other states and territories who have state-level defense forces.
The state guard will be responsible to help Floridians during emergencies and natural disasters, especially during hurricane season. They can’t be deployed by the federal government or serve outside of the state, but will be armed like the Florida National Guard, DeSantis’ office said.
The legislature allocated $10 million to recruit and train 400 volunteers – but the response has been so great that more than three times the number of people needed for available slots have applied.
The $10 million is “just the beginning,” DeSantis said, adding that the legislature will likely be expanding the available state guard slots in the next legislative session.