Four South Floridians went into active duty on Thursday alongside nearly 60 others marking the Florida National Guard’s 100th deployment since 9/11.
The National Guard held a ceremony in honor of the milestone in Starke. Soldiers and air force personnel make up the deployed 2nd Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment, which specializes in aircraft navigation.
Over the next few days, the battalion will travel to Fort Hood, Texas, for training. It will then head to Afghanistan and nearby countries where members will provide aviation support as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom, which is known as the war in Afghanistan.
“This is not only a milestone for the Florida National Guard, it is a milestone for every Florida guard member and everyone that supported our committed men and women over the past 11 years of deployments,” said Adjutant General of Florida Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw Jr. in a news release.
Since 9/11, the Florida National Guard has called on more than 17,000 inactive members to serve. The state’s National Guard has only about 10,000 soldiers and 2,000 air force personnel, according to Ron Tittle, deputy communications director for the Florida Department of Military Affairs. There are currently about 1,000 Florida National Guard members serving around the world.
“We’ve had some who have been deployed four, five or even six times,” Tittle said. “We’ve developed quite a few experienced soldiers.”
The 100th deployment comes at a time when the state’s National Guard is making cutbacks due to the sequestration. Half of the Florida National Guard and reserve military technicians, or about 1,000 soldiers and air force personnel, are being furloughed and some servicemen will suffer a 20 percent pay cut as a result, according to Tittle. National Guard members that are deployed overseas will not be affected by the furloughs.
Still, the cutbacks will likely have a cascading effect on the readiness of lifesaving equipment, which requires ongoing maintenance by military technicians, and the ability to train the force in the case of an emergency, Tittle said.
The problem stems from the Florida National Guard not being given the authority by the federal government to determine where budget cuts should be made, Tittle said. Instead of identifying nonessential spending, cuts are being made across the board, Tittle said. The U.S. Congress likely won’t change its approach to the federal budget until the end of its session in 2014, he added.
“Because of that, furloughs will probably continue into the next couple of years,” Tittle said. “We just don’t know. It’s hard to plan ahead.”
About 18 members of the Florida National Guard have died while serving since 9/11. Some of those members died in combat while others died after accidents or due to natural causes. The 22-year-old Army Spc. Jeffrey M. Wershow was the first Florida National Guard member to die in combat after 9/11. Wershow was shot and killed at Baghdad University while conducting military operations on July 6, 2003. Wershow was called to serve six months earlier while studying at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville.