Fledgling Florida State Guard gets its third director in a year

United States Marine Corps veteran Mark Thieme will be the latest director of the new Florida State Guard, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Friday.

Thieme spent more than 35 years in the Marines, most recently as a colonel and senior operations officer, according to the governor’s office. His accomplishments include “launching and standing up a new civil military organization,” according to the office.

Thieme will be the third director of the State Guard in the last year. Its first director died by suicide. Its second director, U.S. Navy Reserve Capt. Luis Soler, quit halfway through the State Guard’s first training class in June.

The World War II-era organization was revived by the Legislature last year, at DeSantis’ urging, but it has struggled to get off the ground.

Originally pitched as a 400-member organization that would supplement the overworked and understaffed Florida National Guard, its scope and mission has changed dramatically in the last year.

Its original organizers envisioned members, who are volunteers, wearing polo shirts and khakis and helping after disasters within Florida.

Major Mark Thieme, right, passes a piece of cake to Lance Cpl. Joseph Patti during a Marine Corps birthday ceremony on the flight line at Pano Aqil Cantonment, Pakistan, Nov. 10, 2010. With the Pakistan military, 26th MEU Marines flew CH-53E Super Stallion Helicopters to isolated flood-affected locations and transported more than 3.9 million pounds of World Food Programme flood relief supplies to 150 different locations in southern Pakistan. Lance Cpl. Nicholas A. Kellogg/United States Marine Corps

Instead, its members are now referred to as soldiers and they wear camouflage uniforms. The governor can now send them out of state for any emergency, and their budget includes boats, planes and helicopters. The guard’s first training class included “engagement skills training” and how to fire weapons without live rounds during a video-game-like setting.

The mixed-messages caused military veterans who volunteered for the State Guard to quit over the militia-like training.

Veterans who attended the training told the Herald/Times this summer that their National Guard trainers were inexperienced and the training slapdash.

One volunteer, a disabled retired Marine Corps captain, called the local sheriff’s office to report he was battered by Florida National Guard instructors when they forcibly shoved him into a van after he questioned the program and its leadership.