The Fact About Florida State Guard’s Particular Operations Unit

Founders needed to create comparable particular operations items throughout a coalition of states, which might not be topic to federal oversight or presidential authority.

A scholar at Stronghold SOF Options engages floor targets from an MH-6 Little Chicken. (All photographs, screenshots and movies courtesy of Stronghold SOF Options.)

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis introduced he was “reactivating” the Florida State Guard practically two years in the past, veteran particular operators and enterprise companions Brandon Graves and Tom Morton knew they may contribute, in order that they locked themselves of their workplace and commenced writing an unsolicited proposal that they deliberate to ship to the governor’s crew.

Graves and Morton had just lately opened Stronghold SOF Solutions, a one-of-a-kind tactical coaching facility positioned in Florida’s Panhandle. Stronghold’s coaching workers are all former particular operators. The 50-acre facility is simply minutes from the 7th Particular Forces Group. Only a few of Stronghold’s choices embrace a two-story live-fire shoot home, a 4160-foot runway, 4 360-degree dynamic ranges, MOUT/SOUC websites, an underground coaching facility and a demolition vary that may assist as much as 40-pound fees. The ability has a clubhouse, drone-friendly airspace and helos – a Soviet-designed Mi-17 and a Boeing MH-6, higher often called a Little Chicken, which has turn out to be the taxi of alternative for a lot of particular operators.

Of their proposal, Graves and Morton wrote of an untapped useful resource – retired particular operations veterans – who could be the proper pressure to fulfil FSG’s mission of responding to pure or artifical disasters. They supplied to pick out, practice and validate a 60-man particular operations pressure.

“We bought their consideration in Tallahassee,” Graves mentioned. “They had been enthusiastic about it.”

Morton mentioned the idea they floated of their proposal is similar idea that led to the creation of Stronghold.

“One cause we constructed this place was to be a stronghold for our colleagues getting out,” he mentioned. “We needed this to be a spot to assist guys springboard into their subsequent life. The GWOT (International Conflict on Terror) is mainly over, and there are literally thousands of guys with 20 or extra years of expertise in particular operations, which value the federal government tens of millions of {dollars} to provide. We’re attempting to leverage that expertise and make it obtainable to this state and different states.”

Florida awarded Stronghold SOF Options a no-bid contract price as much as $1.2 million. Graves and Morton knew the legacy media would push again in opposition to their efforts, but neither particular operator anticipated the ferocity of the media’s assault.

A 450-year historical past

The Florida State Guard traces its lineage to 1565, when the Spanish in St. Augustine stood up the primary firm of armed citizen volunteers, in keeping with the FSG website.

Three-hundred and seventy-six years later, in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt federalized many states’ Nationwide Guard items and despatched them to struggle. In response, the Florida Legislature created immediately’s Florida State Guard to safeguard the Sunshine State.

On June 14, 2022, DeSantis introduced he was reactivating the FSG with a “statewide fast response land-based, maritime, and aviation capabilities.”

Final week, 205 candidates handed the FSG’s three-week Preliminary Entry Coaching and can be a part of the 120 State Guardsmen who had been already a part of the group.

“The Florida State Guard serves an vital function in emergency response for the state. I’m happy to see this vital volunteer pressure proceed to develop to serve the folks of Florida,” DeSantis mentioned in an announcement.

Whereas many of those candidates had prior army service, they shouldn’t be confused with the 60-man particular operations pressure Graves and Morton helped create, which is thought formally because the Florida State Guard Particular Operations Firm, or SOC.

A drone outfitted with night time imaginative and prescient captures a “squirter” throughout coaching at Stronghold’s live-fire shoot home. (All photographs, screenshots and movies courtesy of Stronghold SOF Options.)

Particular Operations Firm

The SOC is chock-full of tabs, tridents, wings and berets. Its members embrace former Navy SEALs, Military Rangers and Particular Forces, MARSOC Marines, Air Power Particular Operations veterans and extra.

“The overwhelming majority are prior SOF guys, however we did choose just a few different abilities,” Morton mentioned. “The FSG has a extra legislation enforcement-centric mission slightly than purely army, so we tried to construct a crew that will achieve success at this mission.”

“Each one among them has the SOF mindset,” Graves mentioned. “We vetted and educated all of them.”

The state agreed to buy weapons and equipment for the SOC. Because it stands now, the 60 members are issued Sig-Sauer P-320 9mm handguns and Sig-Sauer MCX-SPEAR carbines.

The package state officers bought for the SOC leaves slightly to be desired. Nevertheless, particular operators are seldom happy with any issued gear.

College students practice at Shut Quarters Battle and taking pictures whereas transferring. (All photographs, screenshots and movies courtesy of Stronghold SOF Options.)

Three issues directly

The state contract required Stronghold to “choose, practice and validate” a 60-man pressure in simply two weeks.

“These three points of a coaching setting are positioned at totally different factors in a SOF unit’s work-up cycle,” Morton mentioned. “And we had two weeks to do all of that. Thankfully, for the SOF group, coaching by no means actually stops. We piggy-backed off of the army’s funding. We actually simply wanted to carry out a operate verify, to ensure all the talents had been nonetheless there.”

Stronghold’s trainers began with a collection of rifle and pistol {qualifications} on a flat vary, together with automobile work and bail-out drills. The trainers transitioned to battlefield medical coaching, utilizing Particular Forces 18-Delta medics. All members at the moment are licensed in TCCC (Tactical Fight Casualty Care).

Throughout week one, the operators labored on particular person Shut Quarters Battle abilities within the shoot home. “We had been watching intently,” Morton mentioned. “We had been taking metrics of every little thing.”

Throughout week two they centered on team-based abilities, together with plane operations with the Mi-17 and Little Chicken. The second week added maritime abilities, which had been taught by a Coast Guardsman and Navy SEALs and included VBSS (Go to Board Search and Seizure) missions within the Gulf of Mexico.

“One of the best ways to consider this coaching is much less army and extra like Coast Guard or legislation enforcement stops out on the water,” Morton mentioned.

Towards the tip of week two, the scholars had been put via validating workout routines – full mission profiles of maritime interdictions on the water, and hostage rescue missions utilizing simunitions, which had been performed within the shoot home.

“They obtained their warning order, deliberate, moved to the shoot home, entered, cleared and exfilled,” Graves mentioned. “We had wonderful function gamers who would escalate their conduct throughout the coaching. It began with verbal abuse, throwing issues, then brandishing a weapon however not pointing it. Within the ultimate escalation, the function participant would level and shoot. We had been actually hyper-focused on when to make use of pressure. These guys actually shouldn’t have to go to that degree but. We need to be sure that they’re prepared, however we don’t anticipate something near that degree of menace.”

Media pushback

The legacy media has tried to label Graves as a DeSantis supporter as if to suggest that Stronghold’s no-bid contract was awarded for private or political causes. Nevertheless, neither Gaves nor Morton or Stronghold have ever donated a greenback to any of DeSantis’ political campaigns. (Nor have they ever met DeSantis personally.)

The sort of bashing was anticipated.

“It’s truthful to say we shortly realized there was a political side to all of this,” Morton mentioned. “Every time politics are concerned, the media goes to take each alternative to spin it differently – their means. There are lots of coaching firms on the market, however I’m not conscious of 1 like ours within the state of Florida – particularly one with our services.”

What was not anticipated was the media’s bashing of an American hero.

“The engagement of a fight coaching firm with hyperlinks to an accused struggle legal raises critical questions concerning the intentions of Florida Governor DeSantis’s civilian army pressure,” a reporter wrote of 1 Stronghold coach, retired Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher.

To single out Gallagher was a brand new low and intensely unfair, Morton mentioned.

“In the event that they actually knew his story, he’s a man who served his nation for 20 years. He’s a real warfighter. He’s been within the worst conditions. He pushed via Mosul, which was excessive. He took care of his guys. In my view, he is a good instance of what a patriot must be. They actually used all that in opposition to him. Many of the media’s damaging protection that’s been pointed at us was via our relationship with Eddie,” Morton mentioned.

To be clear, Gallagher ran afoul of the traditional rigidity and mistrust that exists between the standard Navy and the extraordinarily unconventional SEAL Groups. It’s one thing any particular operator can face, no matter their department of service. Gallagher was charged with seven crimes however acquitted of six. President Trump instantly congratulated Gallagher by way of Twitter. 4 weeks later, Trump ordered the Secretary of the Navy to revoke the Navy Achievement Medals, which got to Gallagher’s prosecutors as a reward for his or her prosecution.

The Navy didn’t quit regardless of the acquittal and ordered Gallagher demoted from E-7 to E-6. Trump intervened and stopped the demotion chilly. Undeterred, the Navy shortly convened a “Trident Overview Board,” to find out whether or not Gallaher must be stripped of his SEAL Trident. For Trump, that was an excessive amount of. He tweeted: “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was dealt with very badly from the start. Get again to enterprise!”

Graves has zero regrets. He and Morton take into account Gallagher a detailed pal and one among their greatest instructors.

“In particular operations, there are guys who’re educated and guys who’re skilled,” he mentioned. “Eddie is each educated and skilled. From a sensible standpoint, he is likely one of the greatest guys we might herald. He’s a assured, succesful, extremely skilled man. Sadly, the system turned its tooth on him.”

New Federalism

Graves and Morton are in talks with officers in Texas and Louisiana who’ve expressed curiosity in creating particular operations items of their states.

“It’s federalism – attempting to get the choice making again to the state degree,” Graves mentioned. “We want a system the place the states can depend on one another. We are able to create comparable items in a coalition of states in the event that they put the monetary means behind it. We are able to vet, practice and run the precise program, so anytime there’s a artifical or naturals catastrophe, the states can ship one another sources.”

Morton added that they aren’t attempting to switch federal sources. They need to give governors further choices.

“We’re actually not against federal help,” Morton mentioned. “What we’re actually getting at is attempting to assist state create the setting the place states have the means to resolve their very own issues.”

Stated Graves: “The idea whereby states start to arm themselves and construct the capabilities of State Guards removes the flexibility of the federal authorities to leverage their help.”

This story is introduced by the Second Modification Basis’s Investigative Journalism Challenge and wouldn’t be doable with out you. Please click on here to make a tax-deductible donation to assist extra pro-gun tales like this.

About Lee Williams

Lee Williams, who’s often known as “The Gun Author,” is the chief editor of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project. Till just lately, he was additionally an editor for a day by day newspaper in Florida. Earlier than turning into an editor, Lee was an investigative reporter at newspapers in three states and a U.S. Territory. Earlier than turning into a journalist, he labored as a police officer. Earlier than turning into a cop, Lee served within the Military. He’s earned greater than a dozen nationwide journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. Lee is an avid tactical shooter.

Lee Williams

The Truth About Florida State Guard’s Special Operations Unit is written by Lee Williams for

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