Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Florida G.I. Bill' Offers Help; Improves Education, Armories, Provides Money for Buffer Land

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Florida G.I. Bill' Offers Help; Improves Education, Armories, Provides Money for Buffer Land

Article excerpt

Byline: Clifford Davis

Three weeks after the Pentagon announced major cuts to the active military and state National Guard forces, Florida's Legislature took steps to ease the impact, offering education help, improving National Guard armories and providing more educational reimbursements to guardsmen.

Perhaps the biggest announcement from the "Florida G.I. Bill," for Jacksonville was a provision for $7.5 million to buy land around Florida military bases to buffer them from future closings.

After a legislative workshop on base encroachment (private development crowding out military training capabilities around bases), a list was made of Florida bases most endangered by private development, said Sen. Audrey Gibson, vice chair of the military and veterans affairs committee. The bases would likely rise on the at-risk list if the base realignment and closures (BRAC) of which Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned last month come to fruition.

The $7.5 million will be used to safeguard three bases against encroachment: MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Naval Support Activity Panama City and Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville.

"It sends a signal to the BRAC commission as well that Florida wants to keep the installations we have and keep the people we have," Gibson said.

When it comes to the Florida National Guard, keeping the people Florida has is critical.

While Florida is one of the most disaster-prone states in the country, it is last in terms of the guardsmen-to-civilian ratio. To that end, the bill had several parts aimed at bolstering a military force that has been snubbed in recent budget battles in Washington.

The Florida Legislature provided $12.5 million to refurbish some of the state's aging National Guard armories.

"Some of Florida's armories have not been modernized since the 1960s and funding . …

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