Military historian sheds light on Florida Guard, says there's a "concerning" past to state militias
Gov. Ron DeSantis has touted the state guard move as historical, yet one former military officer says state militias have a dark past that should not be overlooked.
More than 100 Floridians recently walked across the stage at Camp Blanding, signifying their completion of the state’s newly revived State Guard boot camp. That’s something Florida has not seen since the 1940s.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has touted the state guard move as historical, yet retired Air Force officer and history professor Chris Rein, says state militias have a dark past that should not be overlooked.
The history of volunteer armies
The year is 1861, and the Deep South is undergoing a gruesome feud with northern states over the economic and political freedom of slaves; it’s the U.S. Civil War. During the Civil War, volunteer armies were brought in to help the Confederate South.
“In the antebellum period, state guard or state militias were used as primarily as slave patrols and to enforce or prevent slave insurrections," said Rein in an interview with WFSU.
State vs. National Guard?
It wasn’t until 40 years later when the federal government signed legislation known as the Militia Act, that would officially set boundaries for state and federal military forces. National Guard troops were redirected to help states during natural disasters like hurricanes, but they also mobilize in federal missions and wars.
When the United States entered its second world war, states had to find temporary replacements for deployed troops. Many states like Florida started their own forces as a result. Unlike the national guard, these groups answer only to the governor and are funded through state tax dollars. Rein says this puts the Florida guard at a disadvantage.
“If you look at the capabilities, you certainly would rather have a national guard. With the extensive training that the national guard has undergone, the equipment, and resources that they have access to— I think that would be most responders first choice.”
“The Florida State Guard will be comprised of Floridians," said DeSantis. "It will be designed to help only Floridians. It will not be subject to be mobilized by the federal government and the federal government cannot impose policies or penalties on the Florida state guard.”
Yet, Rein worries this may cause conflict over who is joining the state guard, and for what reason. An example would be former Lt. General Sumter Lowry. He fought in both WWI and WWII as a member of the Florida National Guard. According to documents found by the University of South Florida, he was a well-known believer of racial segregation during his tenure in the Guard.
Florida joins 22 other states and U.S. territories to implement its own force.
“If you look across the South of the states with the former Confederacy, 8 of them have state guards," said Rein. "That speaks maybe to a little bit of the history of anti-federalism and concerns about state versus federal control in the deep south.”
With this year’s state budget, the Guard is set to reach 1,500 members. Applicants must have a valid state license and pass several physical tests. Commitments include a minimum of three years, attending monthly training, and as DeSantis has stated be “ready to be a part of history.”
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