The Florida National Guard’s top-ranking general cautioned lawmakers on Tuesday that the nation’s growing demand for more Guardsmen may soon overwhelm their ranks.
Amid an ongoing COVID-19 response, continuous worldwide deployments, and an approaching hurricane season, Adjutant General James Eifert warned that troops are in short supply.
“We cannot adequately support the state’s citizens on Florida’s worst day with the size of our National Guard at this point,” Eifert told the Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security. “It’s a serious concern for me, as it should be for all Floridians.”
Eifert pointed out that Florida’s population has disproportionately outgrown the Florida National Guard’s ranks for decades. But in the past, Florida would lease soldiers from nearby states during domestic emergencies.
That option, Eifert stressed, may no longer be available as Guardsmen nationwide become increasingly involved with COVID-19 and civil unrest missions.
While other states may weather a troop shortage, Eifert contended that — try as he might — Florida is ill-positioned to do so.
He noted that Florida is the 4th most disaster-prone state in the nation.
What’s more, the Florida National Guard ranks second to last when comparing troop numbers to state population.
By comparison, Eifert said that Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia each have more troops within their ranks despite collectively having a smaller population.
“If you look at the worst-case scenario of a CAT 5 crossing the state from Miami and then back up into the panhandle and all that kind of stuff, you are definitely looking at the possibility that the guard is overwhelmed,” Eifert told lawmakers.
Florida currently has roughly 12,0000 Army National Guardsmen and Air National Guardsmen. Eifert contends the number should be upward of 20,000.
Short-term consequences aside, Eifert warned there are long-term impacts too. The high-demand and low-supply, he explained, may harm troop retention in the future.
“You can only go back to that well so often because these are volunteers,” Eifert said. “The concern is how much are their employers and families going to be willing to allow this to continue with the demand that is put upon our soldiers?”
Eifert implored state lawmakers to stress the need for more troops to Florida’s Congressional Delegation, who in turn could lobby the National Guard Bureau to designate more slots.
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Danny Burgess suggested that Florida can help bolster troop numbers by giving transitioning active-duty veterans more reasons to relocate to Florida and possibly join the reservist ranks.
Burgess, an Army Reserve Officer, previously served as the Florida Department of Veteran’s Affairs’ Executive Director.
“Many post-911 veterans are moving here,” Burgess said. “I think there’s just a number of great opportunities.”
Among the Florida National Guard’s budget requests, Eifert stressed the need for construction and renovation funding toward National Guard armories, some of which are upwards of 50 to 100 years old.
He described it as his top budget priority.
“We really need that to continue to have the facilities that are worthy of the Guardsmen that are serving,” Eifert said.
In all, the Florida National Guard has requested $6,396,637 from the Florida Legislature. Other budget priorities include armory security, workers’ compensation and military pay offset.
Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ budget proposal is expected to be released as early as next week.