Chamber luncheon honors service members, provides insight on armed forces


The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce Ponte Vedra Beach Division and JAX Chamber Beaches Division hosted a joint Chamber luncheon event Thursday, July 12 at Sawgrass Beach Club that honored local service members and updated the community on the state of the armed forces.

Yasmine Mays of the Florida Air National Guard, Jayna Garber of the U.S. Coast Guard, Veronica Davis of the U.S. Army, Taverious Lee of the U.S. Navy and Maichelo Bolanos of the U.S. Marine Corps accepted awards in recognition of their service to the community. Each honoree received a special plaque. Florida Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Brian Simpler also discussed the state of his organization, recruitment, readiness and more.

"It's really an honor to be here with all of you at this great event supporting our military," Simpler said. “I'd say all of our services, all components, active duty, national guard, reserves, we're very busy. As a case in point, right now with the Florida National Guard, I've got airmen deployed around the world. We're all over the planet right now."

Simpler noted that the military has become "much smaller" since his career began. The Air Force consisted of about 1 million people in all components when he was first commissioned, but Simpler said the branch now maintains just over 500,000 members. Simpler added that the Air Force once featured 130 fighter squadrons (about 20 airplanes and 30 pilots) during Desert Storm in the early 1990s, but now has just 55 squadrons.

Additionally, the Florida National Guard leader said recruitment on a national scale has become a challenge in the modern era.

"Some of the senior leaders in Washington, when I talked with them, they tell me (recruitment) is the No. 1 threat we're facing," he said. "The number of people in our nation with the propensity to serve and that are qualified to join is a pretty small pool of people."

Simpler asserted, however, that the nationwide challenge regarding military recruitment doesn’t apply to the Florida National Guard, as there are several potential members waiting to join, receive training and take advantage of the ensuing benefits.

"Our state has an incredible benefits package we offer new recruits," he said. "One of which is a full tuition payment for anybody that joins the National Guard in the state of Florida."

The brigadier general also expounded on the definition of military readiness and revealed that the Florida National Guard is ready to deploy its aircraft anywhere in the world to engage in combat operations.

"Readiness also means being ready to respond to help our fellow Floridians if we have a natural disaster," he said. "We're certainly ready to do all that and while these things are challenging, there's certainly lots of reasons to be optimistic about our future."