TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at the American Legion outpost in Madeira Beach, alongside Major Generals James O. Eifert and James S. “Hammer” Hartsell. Signage at the event was for the Florida State Guard program recently reestablished by the state legislature. He introduced the new leader of the reestablished guard, Lt. Col. Chris Graham.
Recruitment for the renewed state program started at the end of May.
The governor thanked the American Legion for hosting the event and praised the state’s military service members, veterans, and state law enforcement officers for their work. He repeated the criticisms made in the past that parts of America don’t treat their military and law enforcement as well as Florida does, then introduced the variety of speakers with him at the event.
“One of the reasons we’re here today actually goes back to other Biden policies,” DeSantis said about the event in Madeira Beach. “When he came into office, he decided to impose a COVID vax mandate on the U.S. military. You had a situation where most people in our military are the lowest of the lowest risk for COVID, to begin with. Many of them had already had COVID and recovered in 2020 into 2021, and yet he has imposed these mandates on them. And that has had the impact of kicking people out who had served honorably, who had decided this was not what they want to do.”
DeSantis said that the COVID-19 vaccines did not fully prevent infection, and Biden “making them do it” and kicking “good people” out of the military over vaccination was “hurting good order and discipline.”
He rehashed Florida state laws that provided protections for those who would not get vaccinated to prevent them from becoming unemployed as a result of the vaccination rules of private businesses and the military. DeSantis said pilots and Navy SEALs were being processed out.
“There are opportunities where people still want to serve, but people want to serve based on their conscience on that issue,” of vaccination, DeSantis said. “So we saw that and we said, ‘well where are they going to go?’ It would be nice to have a spot for them. And we also looked at our National Guard, and we have one of the lowest guardsmen to citizen ratios…between 54, I think there’s 54 total that have guards. We’re number 53 out of 54 in guards to citizens ratios… We used to have like five million people in the state, and now we have 22 million people plus, and many more visit, and yet our guard hasn’t kept up with that. The problem is that those billets are controlled by Washington. If you want more guardsmen, you have to have the federal government give you more billets. That’s a fight that’s been going on for a long time, and it just hasn’t been something that Congress has been willing to do, and/or that the executive branch has been willing to do. Maybe that’ll happen. But in the meantime, we saw this was an opportunity to say we don’t want the military to be imposing stuff with the vax, we need more support.”
DeSantis listed off response to weather events such as hurricanes, distributing supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and other needs that the National Guard respond to, saying Biden could take them and put them around the world, so the state restarted the Florida State Guard to provide more support for the state’s needs.
“The Florida State Guard will be comprised of Floridians, and it’ll be designed to assist and 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,” DeSantis said. “Florida will join over 20 other states and territories that currently have their state guard, including states like New York. So when we announced this, it was not something that certain media would check, so they made it sound like this was something unique in American history, and made it sound like ‘Gov. DeSantis was raising an army to raze the countryside,’ you know like NBC and all of these things…So they were trying to make this out, they’re doing their thing, all they did was give free advertising for this.”
DeSantis said that initially only $3.5 million had been proposed to start the reestablished program, but the interest in it “was so significant” that the budget was raised to $10 million by the Florida Legislature. The governor said 1,200 people had already applied to join up.
“It shows you the really strong demand, that people want to do, so we’re excited about it, that the legislature provided this support,” DeSantis said. “Because we’ve got huge amount of talent in our state. There’s a lot of people with great skills. Unfortunately there are going to be some people who did not necessarily want to leave active duty military service, who are now going to find themselves, in other states, but I think Florida is the state that most people want to be in when they leave the military, so I think that’s something to offer as well. But I really think this is going to be a force multiplier.”
The governor again referred to hurricanes and other disasters, and the “prospects of rioting two years ago” and that the state wanted to “provide support so you can maintain rule,” and that the Florida State Guard would help with the various needs of the state.
“I think we’re going to be really nimble with this, and that it’s going to be really good,” DeSantis said. He also reminded people that they can still apply, with the funding for the guard to be available July 1, and that it was a paid position.
“There will be some permanent people that are going to run it administratively, but as they drill, they’ll get more stipend…” DeSantis said, and encouraged more to apply to join the program.
He then announced the new director of the guard, retired Marine Corps. Colonel Chris Graham, who DeSantis said was a native Floridian and recipient of a Purple Heart, who had served multiple times overseas including tours in Iraq. The governor said he also had counterterrorism training, and had previously worked in the Defense Intelligence Agency, and mentioned his experience in counter-drug operations, saying it was needed considering the spread of fentanyl coming over the border.
“We now have a situation where the leading cause of death in the United States from 18 to 45 is fentanyl overdose, and it’s almost all coming through the southern border, with the cartels really just eating our lunch every single day,” DeSantis said. “And Biden just letting them do it without any change in policy or any leadership being shown.”
After introducing himself, Graham said the unit would have an important mission and said anything they could do to help, he would do to help.
“As Floridians, you guys know the last hurricane’s behind us, the next hurricane’s on the horizon. Anything we can do to help, I want to help,” Graham said. “As this functions as a state defense force also, I want to build in whatever capabilities are constructive and helpful in that regard too. It’s an honor to be here, and I appreciate that. Like the governor said, we’ve got 1,200 applicants, 400 seats, but it’s my goal that every single person in Florida that wants to help, that wants to be available in need, that wants to serve on Gov. DeSantis’ team, reaches out and applies.”
He said he looked forward to working with, and for, the state. DeSantis took the podium again and said that due to the enthusiasm, the legislature might expand the program in the future. The two generals at the event spoke next, followed by DeSantis again.
At the start of the event, before he introduced Lt. Col. Graham, DeSantis had provided commentary addressing economic concerns, DeSantis took aim at President Joe Biden and gas prices, saying the president was “demagoguing” fossil fuels and critics concerned over prices, repeating statements he’s made in the past about the effect the shutdown of Keystone XL and ANWAR pipelines has done. DeSantis said the current issues, including the “printing of money” were the failures of bad policy.
As he’s done in the past, DeSantis said the 8.6% inflation rate reported was actually higher, focusing on the prices rising at gas pumps and in grocery stores. The inflation rate reported in the Consumer Price Index is an aggregation of all consumer product price increases and fluctuations including, but not limited to, groceries, gasoline, housing costs, and more. He also said release of fuel from the strategic reserve was “not an energy policy” and said the possibility of the Federal Reserve increasing interest rates again was going to cause a slowdown, but that Florida was well-prepared when it came to budget, predicting what he called an unwanted but expected increase in shortages.
Before taking a few questions from the crowd, DeSantis again expressed excitement over the state guard program.
During the question and answer session, DeSantis responded to a question about the Jan. 6 insurrection. He asked why Congress wasn’t holding hearings on inflation or energy independence, instead of “beating a dead horse.” He said they should be working to address concerns of Americans today, instead.
Criticizing the “DC, New York” media, DeSantis said those media outlets “do not care about any of us, out here in other parts,” and that they “live in a bubble.” He referred to the elections on the Texas border on Tuesday, where Republicans won, saying “it’s one thing to kind of get some policies wrong, it’s another thing to have your head in the sand about what’s going on in this country.”
He said Democrats don’t care about what Americans are experiencing at the gas pump, paying rent, or in the grocery store since Biden took office, and that they were “trying to divert attention away from that, and try to focus on things that they think will energize their voter base.” He said they were free to do so, but the American people were “free to send them packing in November.”
In response to a question on Elon Musk’s support for him on Twitter as a 2024 potential presidential candidate, DeSantis made a joke.
“So what I would say, I’m focused on 2022, but with Elon Musk, I welcome support from African Americans, what can I say?” DeSantis said.
A question about indoctrination of children and ideology prompted DeSantis to say that “it’s a huge issue” that parents were becoming more aware of. He said the purpose of education systems was to educate kids, not “indoctrinate them with ideology.”
“That means that parents have a fundamental role when it comes to directing the education and upbringing of their kids,” DeSantis said. “That is under debate in our society right now, you have some people saying parents shouldn’t be involved, that they should butt out and don’t know what they’re doing. But you talk to most teachers, you ask them if they want their students’ parents” they would say the students perform better academically with parent involvement.
“The only people that don’t want the parents involved are the people that think the parents are an impediment to their indoctrination efforts,” DeSantis said. “In Florida this is not up for debate. We are a parents’ rights state, and we’re happy about that. And parents have every right to be involved in their kids’ education. They have a right to go to school board meetings, and petition the school board members for a redress of their grievances. You know, the Biden administration mobilized the FBI to look at school board meetings, to try to intimidate parents. It’s one of the most disgraceful things that I’ve seen, they don’t care, they’re not really focused on some of the things that they’ve really dropped the ball on as core law enforcement, but when it comes to those parents man, they gotta get out there because they’re worried about parents speaking the truth.”
He mentioned forced masking, keeping schools open, and Florida’s education policies as the right way to be, saying things like Critical Race Theory was not going to be something taught in the state.
“You’re not going to have to pay tax dollars and have that tax money go to teaching kids to hate this country and hating each other based on race,” DeSantis said. “That is inappropriate and we’re not going to let it happen.” He said school boards would be held accountable if they don’t follow state standards. DeSantis also said pre-K students should not have “woke gender ideology injected into the curriculum.”
He continued his commentary on education and curriculum, talking about prioritizing civic education and American history.
“Teach about all aspects of history, that’s important, that’s required in our statutes, that all different aspects of history are taught,” DeSantis said. “But we’re not going to jettison the founding principles of this country. We’re going to embrace them. We understand that if we give kids the proper foundation of understanding what it means to be an American, understanding why people would have enlisted to go to Europe in World War II of the Pacific.”
He said if people didn’t understand American values, they wouldn’t have gone overseas to fight in World War II, and referencing his own military service, saying America was conceived as a special place and what makes America unique was in flux now.