Gov. Rick Scott was in Sarasota on Tuesday for the deployment of 140 men and women in the Florida Army 3-265th Air Defense Artillery to the Washington, D.C., area for a 12-month rotation in support of Operation Noble Eagle.
Family and friends shared tearful goodbyes and heartfelt see-you-laters at the Florida National Guard Armory before the troops boarded three buses about 11 a.m.
Before Scott shook hands with each military member for the send-off, he spoke about Orlando and the June 12 shooting at the Pulse nightclub that killed 49 people.
“This attack hit close to home,” he said. “The city of Orlando was terrorized in the darkness.”
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Scott commended the first-responders in Orlando, saying that he saw “dignity, strength and fortitude” in Florida’s people and in each of the men and women that stood before him on Tuesday.
“I have every confidence that the Orlando community will come together and heal,” he said.
Maj. Caitlin Brown, the Florida National Guard’s public information officer, said that 60 military members already started training. The main goal of the battalion, she said, was to take out any threats to the D.C. area, which includes portions of Maryland and Virginia.
“They’ll patrol the skies to look for any airborne threats to any high-value locations within that region,” she said, using Congress and the White House as examples.
Junteavious Reaves, 26, of Bradenton, was one of the military members deploying Tuesday. The 2007 Manatee High School graduate, who just received his master’s degree in aviation science, will be stationed at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland.
Reaves, who said goodbye to his fiancee, Shanna, and his 2- and 8-year-old children, said he’s looking forward to his family being able to visit.
“I’m ready to get on this plane, get our training done so we can help defend the nation’s capital,” he said.
In a press conference after the event, Scott addressed some press queries.
On FEMA: The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied Scott’s June 13 request for an emergency declaration after the Orlando attact because, according to the return letter, his request did not demonstrate the state and local government’s inability to handle the situation nor did it identify what direct federal assistance would be needed to save lives and protect property.
“I’m shocked,” he said, saying by looking at FEMA’s approval history, he didn’t understand why they wouldn’t approve it. “We’ll clearly appeal it and it’s wrong.”
On ISIS: Scott identified two things that was most important to him in the fight against ISIS.
“We’re going to take all measures to destroy ISIS,” he said. “If you’re going to come into our country, you ought to go through a screening process.”
Scott added that Florida was “probably the best melting pot in the world.”
“We love immigration,” he said, “but we do want to be safe.”
On Orlando: Scott was in Orlando for the past week, meeting with victims’ families, attending funerals and visiting victims in the hospital.
“They attacked our gay community. They attacked our Hispanic community. But the truth is, they attacked all of us,” he said.