As all Floridians know, the Sunshine State can be anything but.


From hurricanes to floods to wildfires, look at any list of states most in danger of natural disasters and you’ll find Florida somewhere in the top five.

Yet the state is dead last when it comes to the size of its Army National Guard versus its civilian population with 10.3 Guardsmen per 100,000 civilians, according to numbers provided by the Florida Army National Guard.

And if the proposed military cuts announced Monday by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel go through, that force would be cut by 10 percent.

“I’m deeply concerned,” said Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw, Florida’s Adjutant General. “During the hurricanes we had in 2004 and 2005, we pretty much used up everything we had then, and we had more than we have now.”

In the past year, the Florida Army National Guard has lost major air assets: a C-130 and two C-23 Sherpa aircraft used to move men and material.

Under the cuts Hagel proposed, Florida units also would lose some of their Black Hawk helicopters needed during disasters.

Though Guard units often share assets with other states to cover gaps, that’s not the first choice.

“Say a hurricane is bearing down on Daytona Beach from the Atlantic Ocean,” he said. “Georgia is not going to give up their assets to help us because that storm could turn and impact Georgia.”

Florida would then be forced to look for help from farther away, and that takes time, Titshaw said.

“They have to muster and convoy and it could take several days, so you lose the speed element,” he said. “And in this business, speed is life.”

Titshaw stressed that he didn’t want to alarm Floridians. He said the Guard will be there no matter what. However, additional time, money and risk will be involved.

“The situation we find ourselves in today versus 2004, 2005 has me concerned,” he said. “And I know it has Gov. Scott concerned.”

Gov. Rick Scott isn’t the only one.

All of the nation’s governors met with President Obama Monday before Hagel announced the cuts.

Following the meeting, governors of 47 states and three territories signed a letter pleading with the president not to reduce their National Guard forces.

“The nation’s governors strongly oppose the potential cuts to the Army National Guard,” the letter begins. “We respectfully request that you reconsider proposed cuts to the [Guard] and changes to the Guard’s combat aviation capabilities and that you work with us to fashion solutions.”


How did a state on the verge of becoming the third largest in the nation end up with the smallest Army National Guard compared to population?

“The country’s demographics have shifted, but the force structure (how National Guard resources and funding are allocated) hasn’t shifted with it,” said Lt. Col. James Evans, director of public relations for the Florida National Guard.

The problem goes back nearly a century, at least.

During World War I, the National Guard was folded into the active Army to beef up its ranks.

“After World War I, when the Army was demobilized and the force structure was set, we were given a force structure that was proportional to our state at that time,” Titshaw said. “Florida has grown somewhat in that time.”

For much of the nation’s history, the National Guard, controlled by the states, was a preferred alternative to a large, standing Army.

Partially a historic link to the nation’s revolutionary past, standing armies were traditionally seen as more of a threat to civilians and their pockets than to any perceived enemy.

After each World War, the active U.S. military was drawn down to a skeleton of its wartime size.

“Going in to World War II, the Army National Guard was approximately three times larger than the active Army,” Titshaw said.

However, the urgency of the Korean Conflict began to change some perceptions. In 1950, a poorly trained and equipped U.S. military that was a shadow of its former self was nearly kicked in to the East China Sea by the North Koreans before they could recover.

The beginning of the Cold War marked the first major retention of a sizeable U.S. Army to counter the Communist threat. And as the Cold War dragged on for nearly half a century, both active and Guard components were sustained.

Prior to 1990, the National Guard had grown in proportion to the country.

“As the nation grew, the National Guard grew. I believe that was a sound strategy,” Titshaw said.

But with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the first Gulf War came cutbacks.

“The National Guard was (harmed) and Florida was impacted considerably by that,” Titshaw said. “We had about 1,600 additional troops compared to what we have now.”

However, tightening budgets and different approaches to the National Guard have, at least temporarily, left politicians fighting tooth and nail to save their states’ military assets.

Any additional resources for the Florida National Guard most likely would come at the expense of another state. No matter how much worse they may be needed in Florida, that probably won’t happen, Evans said.

One glimmer of hope is flickering: House Bill 3930 sponsored by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and cosponsored by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), among others.

The bill proposes an independent committee to review the allocation of Army resources and redistribute them if needed.

“The Air Force just did this and there has been a magnificent outcome,” Titshaw said. “Every once in a while any business or any agency benefits from an independent look.”


Clifford Davis: (904) 359-4207