Veterans Quit as Training, Mission for DeSantis’ State Guard Turn Militaristic

In June, the first recruiting class of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' new Florida State Guard arrived at Camp Blanding for training. However, instead of the non-military mission they were promised, the volunteers were trained for combat by the state's National Guard. This shift in training led to some recruits quitting due to concerns that the program was becoming too militaristic.

The State Guard was initially intended to be a disaster response team composed of veterans and civilians with practical skills to help Floridians during emergencies. However, the program's mission changed over time, with lawmakers proposing an $89 million budget to buy military equipment and granting the State Guard police powers and the ability to carry weapons. The program also aimed to increase its membership to 1,500 members and expand its jurisdiction beyond Florida.

During the training, tensions arose between the volunteers and the National Guard trainers. One incident involved a retired Marine Corps captain who reported being battered by National Guard instructors when he questioned the program and its leadership. The incident was investigated but ultimately closed without charges being filed.

The program has faced leadership challenges, with the State Guard currently searching for its third leader in eight months. Many of the original leaders appointed by the previous director have quit. The lack of stability and clear direction has raised concerns among former volunteers about the program's future.

Despite these issues, Major General John D. Haas, overseeing the Florida National Guard, defended the program, stating that dissatisfaction among trainees is expected in any rigorous and disciplined course. He emphasized that the State Guard is a military organization that will not only respond to emergencies but also aid law enforcement with riots and illegal immigration.

Governor DeSantis' office referred questions to Major General Haas, and neither provided specific answers regarding the retired Marine captain's complaint or the reasons for weapons training. The State Guard graduated its first class of 120 recruits, far below the approved target of 1,500 members. The program's future remains uncertain as it searches for new leadership and attempts address the concerns raised by former volunteers.

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