Florida’s State Guard Faces Internal Turmoil as Volunteers Balk at Militarization

Florida’s State Guard, activated by Governor Ron DeSantis last summer, has faced internal turmoil as recruits complain about the organization becoming heavily militarized. The State Guard, a force of volunteers intended to respond to hurricanes and public emergencies, has faced criticism for requiring marching drills, military-style training sessions on combat, and weapons training. Around 20 percent of the initial 150 recruits dropped out or were dismissed, including a retired Marine captain who filed a false imprisonment complaint against Guard sergeants after a dispute with instructors. Some recruits left or were fired when they voiced their concerns about the organization’s direction.

Recruits said they were under the impression that the organization would be a civilian disaster response force but found it to be more militarized. The Florida State Guard, disbanded after World War II, was reinstated by DeSantis in preparation for a presidential election bid. Civil rights advocates have expressed concerns about the vague language in the mission mandate, fearing that the Guard may undertake police-style operations for unclear purposes. According to the governor’s office, one of the Guard’s missions is to protect the state’s people and borders from civil unrest and illegal aliens. However, DeSantis has dismissed concerns over the organization’s role, stating that people were eager to join.

The State Guard operates alongside the National Guard in many states, but the Florida Guard has faced budget expansions and plans to field 1,500 volunteers with a budget of $108 million. Recruits were surprised to find that their training syllabus included skills more suited for combat than disaster response, such as rappelling off buildings and learning to use a compass. The training seemed disorganized and included excessive time spent marching in fields. Some recruits were offended by junior instructors acting as drill sergeants who disregarded their previous ranks. The volunteers expected training on disaster response but found that it was only provided at the end of the program, following training on marksmanship and concealed carry of weapons.

Despite the frustrations of some recruits, program officials state that the majority of participants have appreciated the training. They argue that law enforcement is necessary for the Guard’s job because local police officers may become victims of natural disasters. However, some recruits had joined the organization expecting a more civilian-focused role akin to FEMA. The State Guard’s first training session included instruction in land navigation, water safety, rescue, disaster response and recovery, and basic life support.

The internal turmoil within Florida’s State Guard highlights concerns about the militarization of the organization and the expectations of recruits. While some recruits have praised the training, others feel that the organization has strayed from its intended civilian disaster response role. As criticism continues, it remains to be seen how the State Guard will develop under Governor DeSantis’ leadership.

Note: The recreated article is adapted from the original article published by The New York Times.