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Retired Marine colonel to lead new FL civilian guard force; 1,200+ offer to join

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)
June 16, 2022

A retired U.S. Marine lieutenant colonel has been selected to lead the recently restarted Florida State Guard as more than 1,200 people have expressed interest in joining the 400-person organization.

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ announced he had selected retired Marine Lt. Col. Chris Graham to serve as the director the Florida State Guard, which is a distinct entity from Florida’s National Guard. Graham had retired from the Marine Corps just two months before joining the new organization.

“Two months ago I retired from the Marine Corps. as a Lieutenant Colonel after two decades plus of service, and once I saw the opening to become the Director of the State Guard, I decided that two months of retirement was all I needed,” Graham said.

Graham enlisted in the Marines at 17 and later commissioned as an officer. He was temporarily assigned to the Coalition and Special Warfare Division, Counter Drug Branch, before attending flight school in Pensacola. He went on to serve for two years as a helicopter pilot and flew evacuation flights in Iraq. Graham later served in the Marine’s Anti-Terrorism Battalion and was deployed as Task Force Commander. In his last Marine Corps assignment, Graham served as Commanding Officer of the 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) in West Palm Beach.

“This is an unbelievable privilege to reestablish and build from the ground up a modern state defense force,” Graham said. “Florida will be joining 22 other states and territories with state guards, but we have an opportunity to break new ground and deliver a 10-fold investment for Floridians.

Florida had previously formed a state guard force in 1941, mostly to backfill the state’s National Guard, which was being deployed abroad to fight in World War II. Florida ultimately disbanded its state guard in 1947, but DeSantis restarted the organization this year.

DeSantis cited the falling ratio of guard troops to civilians in Florida and President Joe Biden’s military-wide vaccine requirement as reasons for restarting a guard force that cannot be federalized and instead works only for the state of Florida.

“The U.S. military has been kicking out great service members over the Biden administration’s unacceptable COVID vaccine mandate, and they are even targeting members of the National Guard,” DeSantis said. “The bureaucrats in D.C. who control our National Guard have also refused to increase the number of guardsmen despite our increasing population, leaving Florida with the second-worst National Guardsman to resident ratio. By reestablishing the Florida State Guard under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Graham, we have a great opportunity to expand our capability to help people in times of need or disaster.”

DeSantis’ office said the new organization will help fill a disaster response role for the state, where hurricanes are a common occurrence.