A phenomenon of WWII was, with state militias being redesignated as part of the National Guard under the 1903 Dick Act, once the Guard was federalized in 1940 and soon deployed overseas in 1941-42, the “Homeland” was left without anything to ward off potential Axis attacks other than local police (itself depleted by a loss of men joining the colors, remember, even “Bert the Cop” from Its a Wonderfull Life did his bit!) and boy scouts.
This led to the formation of the Civil Air Patrol to span the skies and the Corsair Fleet of the USCG Auxillary to patrol the seas, both composed of volunteers who, at least at first, just used their own equipment.
To stand sentinel at factories, vital chokepoints, and potential targets like bridges and railway yards– as well as provide the governor muscle during times of local need such as natural disaster and riots– states formed “State Guard” units from those too old, too young, or too 4-F to head overseas but still had a desire to serve. Sort of like Dad’s Army but in American format.
California State Guard’s 5th Inf. Regiment at Camp Rubidoux, 1942, note the M1917s and recycled CCC jackets
Florida Defense Force Personnel at U.S.O. Jacksonville. 1942. Spottswood Studio Collection. The Florida Defense Force, later known as the Florida State Guard, formed in 1941, numbered 2,100 men in 36 units two years later. It was disbanded in 1945.
We’ve talked about assorted State Guard forces in WWII several times. As a throwback to this, nearly every state has laws authorizing state defense forces still on the books.
There was something of a resurgence in SG formations during the darkest spots of the Cold War, then another post-9/11 with a Homeland Security flavor. Today, at least 17 states, plus Puerto Rico, have “active” SDFs or State Guards each with different levels of activity, support, with a (squishy) force strength of approximately 14,000 individuals nationwide.
With that, Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida last week announced $3.5 million to reestablish the Florida State Guard. Envisioned to be a 200-member unit, “The establishment of the Florida State Guard will further support those emergency response efforts in the event of a hurricane, natural disasters, and other state emergencies. The $3.5 million to establish the Florida State Guard will enable civilians to be trained in the best emergency response techniques.”
Chapter 251 of the Florida Statutes authorizes the formation, organization, and rules regarding a Florida State Defense Force.
According to the group pushing for the reactivation:
The proposed Florida State Defense Force (SDF) would be a voluntary professional military corps who offers support in totality to the Florida National Guard (FLNG). Operations in security operations, engineering, transportation, chaplaincy, emergency management, legal, and medical services among others operational areas.
The Florida SDF will be comprised of retired, prior service military personnel and selected professional individuals who volunteer their time and talents in further service to their state.
The move from DeSantis, rumored to be a potential POTUS candidate in 2024, has brought lots of handwringing and overheated pearl-clutching from political opponents. They compared the nascent FSG to something akin to Modero’s notorious colectivos, the Tonton Macoute of “Papa Doc,” or Castro’s “popular revolutionary vigilance detachments.”
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat running for governor next year, tweeted, “No Governor should have his own handpicked secret police.”
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, another Dem running to replace DeSantis, echoed, “Can’t believe I have to say this, but Florida doesn’t need a paramilitary force that only answers to @RonDeSantisFL. Millions of Floridians know what it’s like to live under regimes like this — and came to our state to escape them. This must be stopped.”
I was in the Mississippi State Guard for a decade, joining around 1998 when it was battalion-sized (and even boasted a platoon-sized MP “company” drawn mostly from state-certified LEOs), totaling about 500 or so members, with a lot of those being ghosts. Drills were supposed to be monthly, but usually were held quarterly, with attending members having to eat their own uniform, chow, and travel costs. However, both Camp Shelby and Camp McCain made their barracks facilities open to the MSG, which was helpful, although, naturally, you had to supply your own fire watch and CQ folks (been there, did that).
From my own experience, and talking to members of other states’ units, State Guards are pretty innocuous, focusing on delivering Red Cross 1st Aid training (I was an instructor for decades), pushing FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) training, and joining the non-profit national State Guard Association (SGAUS) to complete that group’s Military Emergency Management Specialist (MEMS) Academy– which is basically the EMI with extra steps. All of these are vanilla programs and none of which stress secret police squads, weapons training, giving “helicopter rides” to political opponents, or standing to serve as “build your own Wolverine resistance group” primers.
I saw a lot of good in my time with the MSG, as the group helped out in a lot of ways ranging from providing honor guards and funeral details to helping with toy and food drives besides their bread-and-butter emergency management/support. Kinda like overgrown boy scouts in camouflage. They asked for nothing from the state, which was good, because they wouldn’t have gotten it!
In short, not a chance of a state guard doubling as a terror squad, unless you are afraid that your pot of old coffee will be drained– and $3.17 in pocket change left behind.
I left around 2009 after the MP company (which responded during Hurricane Katrina and other statewide emergencies) was disbanded and the group kinda just devolved into an old boys club with all the 50 or so remaining active members (half of which were designated chaplains regardless of actual theological certifications) seemingly promoted to full colonel and above. “We are a cadre division with three brigades!” was the motto every time a promotion round was announced. But I digress.
From what I understand, the MSG has revitalized off and on in recent years, even trying to form another MP “battalion.” Good on ’em if so!
My thoughts on Florida rebooting their State Guard? Great! I think every state should have such a volunteer force ready for community service. As long as the group tries, and is successful in recruiting to keep new blood revitalizing it, it can do a lot of good.
Incidentally, the Floridan Army National Guard contends they have the longest Western military tradition in the country, dating back some 456 years:
According to the Florida National Guard State Historian’s Office, the “first muster” took place on Sept. 16, 1565 when Pedro Menendez de Aviles gathered around him the soldiers of his small Spanish army, as well as the civilian settlers that had accompanied him to the newly established presidio town of St. Augustine. He was about to march north to the French settlement of Fort Caroline near the mouth of the St. Johns River, with the purpose of driving out the “usurpers of Spanish land.”
Because his plan called for the use of the majority of his regular soldiers, Menendez drew upon Spanish laws governing the militia, or milicia, in an imperial province. As both the civil governor and commander-in-chief of the military establishment he had the authority to call all free male settlers in the presidio province to active service. That first muster in St. Augustine consisted of about 50 men.
The exact location of that first muster is unknown, but local historians and archeologists believe it lies a few miles north of the present site of the Florida National Guard headquarters.
In the earliest tradition of the Citizen-Soldier, the musters of the late 1500s and early 1600s were not much more than simple gatherings of able-bodied men in the town square. It wasn’t until 1671 that volunteer militia units were organized in St. Augustine.
Greg Moore, a Florida National Guard historian, said that while the English militia tradition in the Massachusetts Bay Colony is credited with giving the modern National Guard its earliest organized regiments, it is a fact of history that the Spanish first brought the European tradition – men available for short terms of military service in time of war or domestic turmoil – to the New World … first in Cuba and Puerto Rico, then to the continent at St. Augustine.