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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee.

Florida's legislature confirms the next leader of the State Guard as border mission looms

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, in Miami Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
Marta Lavandier/AP
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AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, in Miami Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

As hundreds of volunteers from the Florida State Guard prepare to leave for the U.S.- Mexico border in Texas, a Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security panel met on Monday for a little house keeping.

The first item on the committee’s agenda was to evaluate Retired Marine Corp Col. Mark Thieme, who Governor Ron DeSantis appointed last year to run the State Guard, after the program's former director died and another quit for personal reasons.

“A number of experiences along the way have given me some unique insights that uniquely qualify me to lead and direct this agency," said Thieme. "I will note that my Lieutenant Colonel command was to build from scratch a civil military organization, much like the Florida State Guard.”

State Senator Victor Torres (D-Orange) immediately grilled the newly appointed director with questions about the Texas deployment. He questioned Thieme over whether the director had anything to do with Gov. DeSantis’ decision.

“I am not involved in the Governors’ decision making, but I do execute those decisions once made," Thieme responsed. "We are currently, the Florida State Guard, are under emergency activation authority.”

The Senate Committee did ultimately advance Thieme’s nomination, but the divide between Democrats and Republicans over whether the State Guard should be used outside of Florida, continues.

Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
Steve Cannon/AP
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FR127919 AP
Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

Torres said he’s concerned about the “legality of the move," considering that the State Guard was formed to respond to manmade and natural disasters in Florida.

“I don't want men and women going over to another state and be caught in something that could be dangerous for them or be involved in some kind of shooting," said Torres.

Meanwhile, the state Senate is advancing a measure (HB-1551) that would have allowed out-of-state deployments for the guard. The bill also would have given state guardsmen legal coverage in the event someone was involved in a criminal act.

That measure has since been amended to only allow the state and federal government power to process level 2 background checks for new recruits entering the State Guard. The changes were made after DeSantis’ deployment announcement and on the same day the Senate committee advanced Thieme’s appointment.

Adrian Andrews is a multimedia journalist with WFSU Public Media. He is a Gadsden County native and a first-generation college graduate from Florida A&M University. Adrian is also a military veteran, ending his career as a Florida Army National Guard Non-Comissioned Officer.

Adrian has experience in print writing, digital content creation, documentary, and film production. He has spent the last four years on the staff of several award-winning publications such as The Famuan, Gadsden County News Corp, and Cumulus Media before joining the WFSU news team.