Florida Veterans Affairs chief: 'We need more' veterans as governors

Of the 50 governors currently serving in office, seven are U.S. veterans, “and we need more,” Retired Marine Corps Major General James S. “Hammer” Hartsell said at a recent news conference in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Hartsell leads the state’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which serves 1.5 million veterans, their families and survivors.

“A 37-year Marine, I know a little about leadership,” he said when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed six bills into law to support military families.

“My research says of the 50 currently serving governors, there’s seven who are veterans,” Hartsell said. “I’m happy we have seven,” he said, but “we need more who are veterans serving as governors.”

He added that “only one of those currently serving governors is a veteran deployed overseas to combat:” Gov. Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis was deployed to Iraq in 2007, serving as the legal advisor to the SEAL Team One commander, Special Operations Task Force-West in Fallujah.

He was first commissioned as a Navy officer while attending Harvard Law School and then assigned to the Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG). After completing Naval Justice School, he was sent to the JAG Trial Service Office Command South East at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, as a prosecutor. He was later promoted to lieutenant, and later worked for the commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo where he directly interacted with detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Joint Detention Facility in Cuba.

It’s important for citizens to understand the importance of military service, Hartsell said, “because Gov. DeSantis was there and saw what happens when a centralized government does wrong to its people. He’s visually seen it. He’s experienced it. He saw the when, the where, the how, when a government fails its citizens.

“He knows what government overreach does to a nation,” Hartsell added. “We saw that in Iraq. ... Coerced state-controlled media proving to its citizens a false narrative to lead them astray. We saw that happen,” he added.

DeSantis also “saw what a failed border does to a nation … in those places we served in because they didn’t have a secure border.”

A good military leader reinforces success, he added, which he said DeSantis has been doing through a series of bills he’s signed into law and by challenging the Biden administration on policies that he said resemble those of foreign countries.

More veterans are moving to Florida than any other state, he said, because “They see what we are doing for our families, for our schools, they see what we do to overreach and mandates.”

Hartsell didn’t list the other governors who are veterans, but three are Democrats and three are Republicans, according to an analysis by The Center Square.

The Democrats include Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who served as a captain in the U.S. Army; Minnesota Gov. Tim Waltz, a command sergeant major in the Army National Guard; and the governor of American Samoa Lemanu Peleti Mauga, who served 23 years in the U.S. military in the Marine Corps and U.S. Army.

Republicans include Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who served in the U.S. Army; South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who served in the U.S. Army Reserves in the JAG Corps; and West Virginia Gov. James Justice, who attended Greenbrier Military Academy.

The bills DeSantis signed into law support education opportunities for veterans and children of active-duty military and expand access to employment opportunities. One makes it possible for disabled veterans to receive free education. Another allows state agencies to substitute work experience, including military experience, for postsecondary education to allow them to apply for civilian jobs. Another allows military service to count toward the requirement for a temporary educator certificate. Another updates legal definitions related to uniformed service members.

Two new laws specifically help military family members. One provides a smooth transition for children of active-duty military when they transfer, enroll in and graduate from school; another expedites license applications of active-duty military spouses.

The new laws are in addition to other initiatives the state’s taken including dedicating $20 million to targeted workforce training for veterans, $3 million to support military communities, and more than $100 million to help “Hometown Heroes” purchase homes.

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