TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Recovery from Hurricane Idalia continues this week and among the thousands helping Big Bend residents are the Florida State Guard. This is the civilian volunteer force's first deployment since going defunct at the end of World War II.
Following last Wednesday's landfall of the Category 3 storm, the State Guard has been helping deliver aid at resource pods across North Florida.
Gov. Ron DeSantis spearheaded the group's reboot to supplement the Florida National Guard during emergencies.
Lawmakers initially approved a $10 million budget and a goal of 400 recruits. To date, officials have yet to reach half that number. Outlets like the New York Times reported training was difficult and too militarized for some.
Even so, this year the GOP majority approved a major expansion. The recruitment cap is now 1,500 with more than 10 times the budget. Lawmakers who joined up told us it was a wise investment.
"We have about 122 members of the Florida State Guard," state Rep. Tom Fabricio, R-Miami Lakes, who is now a lieutenant in the State Guard, said. "All [of the volunteers are] extremely proud Floridians who want to help and want to volunteer. Lots who have prior military experience — some who are current law enforcement. Others, who are civilians— like myself."
Numerous Democrats in the Legislature voted against the expansion. They worried Florida was moving too fast. Others felt the wording used to justify the state guard's deployment was too vague and could be abused.
"This bill potentially creates language where we could be deeming something a public threat when in reality it's not," state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said in April. "Giving that much power to an authority figure raises concern for me."
Regardless, the State Guard is now slated to get vehicles, aircraft and a $10 million building in Florida's new state budget.