TALLAHASSEE, FL—Mere days after Gov. DeSantis announced that the state's version of the national guard will be sent to the Texas border to fight illegal immigration, U.S. Marine veteran Mark Thieme was unanimously confirmed Monday as the new director for the state guard. This makes Thieme the third director in less than two years.
"I would note that my lieutenant colonel command was to build from scratch a civil military organization, very much like the Florida State Guard," Thieme, a colonel, said. He explained that his past experiences have qualified him to, "understand my fiduciary responsibilities of director of this agency to lead it, to build it, to deploy it, and do so within time and under budget,"
He explained the pathway for the State Guard is to be an "aggressive and ambitious way forward in 2024 and 2025,".
Thieme noted that the Florida State Guard has been under emergency activation authority since the day before DeSantis' Jacksonville press conference, in which he announced the Guard's deployment to Texas. When asked how many Guardsmen are to be sent to Texas, Thieme responded that he is "Prepared to offer up a platoon in strength. We won't send quality or quantity which Texas does not ask for,"
"We have gaps in capabilities, people, equipment, and the training that under-rides them," The new Director said, explaining the areas of the Guard that must be worked on. "We are working through the simultaneous recruiting, training, and procurement of equipment, and those timelines are not precisely synchronized,"
"The equipment is lagging by a period of months," He said, before pointing out that a new Guardsman training camp is to be opened this weekend. "I don't believe I'll be able to fully equip those soldiers until probably the May timeframe,"
The previous two directors of the State Guard served short terms. The first director, a decorated Purple Heart recipient, committed suicide four months after the start of his position. The second director was inducted three months late, in January 2023, before resigning for "personal reasons" in June.
The State Guard is a World War II era creation, disbanded in 1947. Gov. DeSantis revived the organization in 2022 as an "emergency-focused civilian force", and has since expanded its membership from 400 to 1,500, and its funding from $10 million to $107.6 million.
The State Guard is unique in that its ultimate authority is Governor DeSantis. The National Guard, on the other hand, is under the ultimate purview of President Biden.
The original form of new bill HB 1551 would have allowed the state guard to operate outside of the state during "periods of unrest" and "at any other time deemed necessary and appropriate" by the Governor. A new strike-all amendment proposed Monday by bill sponsor Republican Rep. Mike Giallombardo, however, waters down the bill.
HB 1551 would now only deal with Level 2 Background checks, allowing the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to process fingerprints and forward them to the FBI to assess any previous criminal history.