‘From 50 we’ve become 12,000’

Written by  //  September 16, 2011  //  Feature Stories

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Florida National Guard celebrates 446 years of history

Historical re-enactors from Florida Living History join Florida National Guard Soldiers during a Command Retreat ceremony on the parade field at St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine, Sept. 16, 2011. The Florida National Guard celebrated the 446th anniversary of the First Muster. Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (Sept. 16, 2011) – Soldiers and Airmen from the Florida National Guard paid homage to their roots as they celebrated 446 years since the first Citizen-Soldiers mustered together to defend their homes from attack in what is now St. Augustine, Florida.

These Spanish citizens who accompanied Pedro Menendez de Aviles on his voyage across the Atlantic nearly four-and-a-half centuries ago laid the roots of the militia tradition in what would later become the continental United States. These early militia “musters” formed the roots of what we today call the Florida National Guard. 

“From 50 we’ve become 12,000,” said Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw, the Adjutant General of Florida, who, since assuming command of the Florida National Guard in 2010, pursued a command philosophy that links the organization’s heritage to its horizons. “That is a remarkable growth and achievement over the years.” 

Adjutant General of Florida Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw (left) prepares to fire a a replica Spanish colonial "hand gonne" held by Assistant Adjutant General for Army Maj. Gen. Don Tyre during the First Muster events at the historic St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine, Fla., Sept. 16, 2011. Period re-enactors from Florida Living History were on hand to help the Florida National Guard celebrate the 446th anniversary of the first Citizen-Soldiers mustering together to defend their homes from attack in what is now St. Augustine, Florida. Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

According to the Florida National Guard State Historian’s Office, the “first muster” took place on Sept. 16, 1565, when Pedro Menendez de Aviles gathered around him the soldiers of his small Spanish army, as well as the civilian settlers who had accompanied him to the newly established presidio town of St. Augustine. He was about to march north to the French settlement of Fort Caroline near the mouth of the St. Johns River. 

Because his plan called for the use of the majority of his regular soldiers, Menendez drew upon Spanish laws governing the milicia, or militia, in an imperial province. As both the civil governor and the commander-in-chief of the military establishment, he had the authority to call all free male settlers in the presidio province to active service. 

The exact location of this “first muster” is unknown, but historians and archeologists believe it lies a few miles north of the Florida National Guard headquarters, most likely near the present site of the Fountain of Youth and the Mission of Nombre de Dios. 

More than 100 Soldiers, Airmen and civilians were present at the historic St. Francis Barracks, Sept. 16, 2011, to mark the event with a military retreat ceremony. The ceremony included a historic weapons demonstration by re-enactors from the Florida Living History educational group, dressed in period clothing firing several replica 16th century weapons including crossbows, swords, halberds and primitive firearms. 

The event marked the second annual commemoration of the “first muster,” as part of a five-year plan to educate the public about the heritage of the Florida National Guard and its history in St. Augustine as the city moves toward its 450th Anniversary in 2015. 

Historical re-enactors from Florida Living Historyfire black powder weapons during a Command Retreat ceremony on the parade field at St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine, Sept. 16, 2011. The Florida National Guard celebrated the 446th anniversary of the First Muster. Photo by Debra Cox

“It was a military expedition that was the central idea behind the village of St. Augustine,” said Titshaw. “And it was the military presence in this community which ensured that St. Augustine survived all of those 446 years of history. We have a great relationship here with the city and we’re proud to share our heritage with them.” 

Today, the Florida National Guard carries on the tradition of the Citizen-Soldier by continuing to come to the aid of the state and nation when called. Florida Guardsmen provide support to the state during times of disaster and deploy Soldiers and Airmen overseas to support our nation’s defense. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Florida National Guard has mobilized more than 15,000 Soldiers and Airmen in support of ongoing operations overseas and at home. 

Just as those 50 Spanish citizen-soldiers were ready 446 years ago to defend their homeland from attack, 12,000 Florida National Guardsmen stand ready today and every day to leave their homes and take up arms to defend the State of Florida and the United State of America proving the National Guard is truly always ready, always there. 

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