Florida State Guard members go to the US-Mexico border in Texas

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migrants at the U.S. border, American flag, barbed wire
By Stadratte via iStock for WMNF News.

By Jim Turner ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — A small number of members of the Florida State Guard have been deployed to Texas to assist with border operations and about 30 more are on standby, Director Mark Thieme told members of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee on Monday.

Thieme, whose confirmation as head of the State Guard was backed by the committee, said five deployed State Guard members are working with officers of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Those agencies, along with the Florida National Guard and the Florida Highway Patrol, have been assisting Texas along the Mexico border since May.

“We still think we may send about a platoon level, that’s about 30 folks, that may provide support to checkpoint operations, distributed logistics, support to public safety, whether on land or on water,” Thieme said. “But nothing at this point in time, to be clear, beyond the five soldiers that we currently have deployed to Texas. There have been no formal requests made by the state of Texas, nor received and validated by the state of Florida for subsequent deployment.”

On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that an additional 76 members of the Florida Highway Patrol and 50 members of the National Guard were being deployed to Texas.

Since May, more than 700 Florida National Guard members, 200 Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents, over 100 Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles officers and 20 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers have rotated to Texas as part of the operation. The Highway Patrol is part of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

DeSantis on Feb. 1 announced plans to send the Florida State Guard to Texas, which is battling with the federal government about undocumented immigrants entering the country. Deployment is contingent on requests from Texas.

A news release Friday from the state Division of Division of Emergency Management said five members of the State Guard’s Incident Management Team were sent to Texas on Feb. 12 and an additional five members were slated to relieve the initial five on Monday.

Thieme is the third person to hold the director position since the State Guard was revived as a volunteer force in 2022 by DeSantis. The State Guard was initially set up during World War II to replace Florida National Guard members who were deployed abroad. It became inactive in 1947.

The size of the State Guard will increase this weekend as another class completes basic training.

The authorized size of the State Guard was expanded from up to 400 members to 1,500 members last year, and the Legislature increased its funding from $10 million to $107.6 million, including covering the costs of five aircraft and boats.

Earlier this month, Thieme put the State Guard’s active membership at about 170.

Thieme told the commission on Monday that State Guard members are being trained as a “professional soldiering organization,” yet “no one within my agency is preparing for combat.”

“We are not statutorily authorized to deploy outside of the state under any federal authority,” Thieme told the committee. “And so, the emphasis on the training that we’re providing our soldiers in initial entry training, and the advanced skills beyond that … is focused on crisis and emergency management.”

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