“It will be an invisible change. Families won’t see their loved ones go off, nor will they see the tragedy of those wounded come back,” he said by telephone. “We’ll be like we’ve always have: On call as needed.”
And that’s the way it ought to be in the view of Sgt. Anthony Calvi, who at age 24 has already served six years.
The sergeant, a Kendall native, is studying engineering at Florida International University. He joined at age 18 and has been deployed twice — once to a year in Iraq doing convoy security as troops hauled out U.S. equipment to wrap up the American invasion, and another time to Germany to train Georgian troops. This year, he competed for and won the title of the Florida Guard’s Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
“Our only job is to train, and be ready for both statewide and worldwide incidents,” said Calvi, who argues that after a decade of deployments, “We have a much stronger National Guard now, better prepared and more experienced.”
That’s because successive deployments have contributed to self-selection. Some Floridians who came home from overseas assignments realized that soldiering was not for them, and chose not to re-enlist.
Today, half of the Florida National Guard troops joined after the Sept. 11 attacks that reshaped America’s attitude toward the military and service. Said Titshaw, the state’s adjutant general: “9/11 has created a National Guard now that is so highly combat experienced.” Troops who signed up before Sept. 11, 2001, with an eye toward weekend warrior or hurricane duty have retired or moved on.
Still by some measures it is an uncertain time for the Guard.
Congress and the White House have decided to cut costs through the sequestration, and 993 full-time employees of the Guard will soon start getting one-day-a-week furloughs, or 20 percent pay cuts.
They are Guard members known as technicians, who draw their wages from federal funds in a range of jobs — from mechanics who maintain armored vehicles to public affairs specialists who write articles. While most Guard members are part-timers when not deployed, the nearly 1,000 so-called technicians are full-time federal civil service employees. Most work in northeastern Florida.
More typical are men like Army Sgt. Carlos Obregon.
The 31-year-old Florida International University student aspires to go into law enforcement, and joined the Guard for the camaraderie and the benefits. He gets tuition assistance now, and retirement benefits if he spends 20 years in uniform, training a weekend a month and for two weeks during the summer.
Obregon, who trains in West Palm Beach, has done two tours in Iraq — the first as an enlisted Marine, more recently in 2010 when the Guard was assigned to the convoy security mission.
He left the Marines, he said, “because I wanted to do something new.”
He joined the Guard because “what I really wanted to do was keep serving.”
He has never worked a hurricane, he said, and training is fundamentally “infantry stuff: Battle drills. Shoot, move, communicate, go to the range, qualify.”
That leaves him ready to answer the call, which he said he would welcome either way. Another overseas deployment would let him “change it up. They’re different from being here every day.” A state call-up would be “fine. That’s what I signed up for.”