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News | March 21, 2024

FLARNG supports state through coastline patrolling operations

By Sgt. Neysa Huertas Quinones Florida Army National Guard

Florida Keys, Fla. - The Florida Army National Guard maintains daily flight operations off the southern coast of Fla., March 20, 2024. Over 80 personnel and 6 aircraft conducted these patrolling missions to support local and state authorities with the identification of possible migrant vessels.

“The National Guard mantra is always ready, always there,” said Lt. Col. Brian Cooper, operations officer for the mission. “ That defines what we do. We train for this type of mission every day while at home station, during our annual training. When the call is there, we respond within 72 hours of the governor's executive order, to ensure the detection, identification and reporting of these vessels that are coming through illegally.”

FLARNG aviation assets from across the state are able to augment both security and safety while working alongside civilian and Coast Guard counterparts. Their task consists of an approximately company-sized element conducting search and rescue operations throughout Ocean Reef and the southern islands.

“We are here as a presence and that can either be seen as a deterrent but it can also be used to assist in safety as a lot of the craft that are coming over are homemade,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Elkins, a UH-72 “Lakota” aircraft mechanic and crew chief with the 2nd Battalion, 151th Aviation. “ This is just another part of our mission and what we do . We are here to augment when other assets are getting strained. We are able to provide that coverage and cover down on the gaps.”

The joint mission's success over the past 15 months has been possible through the combined efforts of personnel and local assets. Operational personnel have developed a collaborative relationship with the surrounding community throughout their mobilization.

“Some challenges that we faced were integrating down here to this local community,” said Sgt. Lana Waler, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Specialist with the 111th Aviation Regiment. “It's such a small community and creating partnerships and relationships with local vendors to complete the mission is crucial to our success.”

The FLARNG demonstrated both interoperability as well as its dedication to service. Guardsmen maintain a high level of proficiency in order to uphold the standard of right, ready, relevant.