Classroom instruction at Stronghold SOF Solutions. Stronghold SOF Solutions Photo
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Founders want to create similar special operations units across a coalition of states, which would not be subject to federal oversight or presidential authority. This scares the Feds and the legacy media.

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he was “reactivating” the Florida State Guard nearly two years ago, veteran special operators and business partners Brandon Graves and Tom Morton knew they could contribute, so they locked themselves in their office and began writing an unsolicited proposal that they planned to send to the governor’s team.

Graves and Morton had recently opened Stronghold SOF Solutions, a one-of-a-kind tactical training facility located in Florida’s Panhandle. Stronghold’s training staff are all former special operators. The 50-acre facility is just minutes from the 7th Special Forces Group. Just a few of Stronghold’s offerings include a two-story live-fire shoot house, a 4160-foot runway, four 360-degree dynamic ranges, MOUT/SOUC sites, an underground training facility and a demolition range that can support up to 40-pound charges. The facility has a clubhouse, drone-friendly airspace and helos – a Soviet-designed Mi-17 and a Boeing MH-6, better known as a Little Bird, which has become the taxi of choice for many special operators.

In their proposal, Graves and Morton wrote of an untapped resource – retired special operations veterans – who would be the perfect force to fulfil FSG’s mission of responding to natural or manmade disasters. They offered to select, train and validate a 60-man special operations force.

“We got their attention in Tallahassee,” Graves said. “They were excited about it.”

Morton said the concept they floated in their proposal is the same concept that led to the creation of Stronghold.

“One reason we built this place was to be a stronghold for our colleagues getting out,” he said. “We wanted this to be a place to help guys springboard into their next life. The GWOT (Global War on Terror) is basically over, and there are thousands of guys with 20 or more years of experience in special operations, which cost the government millions of dollars to produce. We’re trying to leverage that talent and make it available to this state and other states.”

Florida awarded Stronghold SOF Solutions a no-bid contract worth up to $1.2 million. Graves and Morton knew the legacy media would push back against their efforts, yet neither special operator anticipated the ferocity of the media’s attack.  

 

A 450-Year History

The Florida State Guard traces its lineage to 1565, when the Spanish in St. Augustine stood up the first company of armed citizen volunteers, according to the FSG website.

Three-hundred and seventy-six years later, in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt federalized many states’ National Guard units and sent them to war. In response, the Florida Legislature created today’s Florida State Guard to safeguard the Sunshine State.

On June 14, 2022, DeSantis announced he was reactivating the FSG with a “statewide rapid response land-based, maritime, and aviation capabilities.”

Last week, 205 candidates passed the FSG’s three-week Initial Entry Training and will join the 120 State Guardsmen who were already part of the group.

“The Florida State Guard serves an important role in emergency response for the state. I am pleased to see this important volunteer force continue to grow to serve the people of Florida,” DeSantis said in a statement.

While many of these candidates had prior military service, they should not be confused with the 60-man special operations force Graves and Morton helped create, which is known officially as the Florida State Guard Special Operations Company, or SOC.

Live training at Stronghold SOF Solutions. Stronghold SOF Solutions Photo

Special Operations Company

The SOC is chock-full of tabs, tridents, wings and berets. Its members include former Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Special Forces, MARSOC Marines, Air Force Special Operations veterans and more.

“The vast majority are prior SOF guys, but we did select a few other skills,” Morton said. “The FSG has a more law enforcement-centric mission rather than purely military, so we attempted to build a team that would be successful at this mission.”

“Every one of them has the SOF mindset,” Graves said. “We vetted and trained all of them.”

The state agreed to purchase guns and gear for the SOC. As it stands now, the 60 members are issued Sig-Sauer P-320 9mm handguns and Sig-Sauer MCX-SPEAR carbines.

The kit state officials purchased for the SOC leaves a little to be desired. However, special operators are seldom satisfied with any issued gear.

Three Things at Once

The state contract required Stronghold to “select, train and validate” a 60-man force in just two weeks.

“Those three aspects of a training environment are located at different points in a SOF unit’s work-up cycle,” Morton said. “And we had two weeks to do all of that. Fortunately, for the SOF community, training never really stops. We piggy-backed off of the military’s investment. We really just needed to perform a function check, to make sure all the skills were still there.”

Stronghold’s trainers started with a series of rifle and pistol qualifications on a flat range, along with vehicle work and bail-out drills. The trainers transitioned to battlefield medical training, using Special Forces 18-Delta medics. All members are now certified in TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care).

During week one, the operators worked on individual Close Quarters Battle skills in the shoot house. “We were watching closely,” Morton said. “We were taking metrics of everything.”

During week two they focused on team-based skills, including aircraft operations with the Mi-17 and Little Bird. The second week added maritime skills, which were taught by a Coast Guardsman and Navy SEALs and included VBSS (Visit Board Search and Seizure) missions in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The best way to think about this training is less military and more like Coast Guard or law enforcement stops out on the water,” Morton said.

Toward the end of week two, the students were put through validating exercises – full mission profiles of maritime interdictions on the water, and hostage rescue mission using Simunitions, which were conducted in the shoot house.

 

Media Criticism

The legacy media has tried to label Graves as a DeSantis supporter, as if to imply that Stronghold’s no-bid contract was awarded for personal or political reasons. However, neither Graves nor Morton or Stronghold have ever donated a dollar to any of DeSantis’ political campaigns. (Nor have they ever met DeSantis personally.)

This type of bashing was expected.

“It’s fair to say we quickly realized there was a political aspect to all of this,” Morton said. “Whenever politics are involved, the media is going to take every opportunity to spin it in a different way – their way. There are a lot of training companies out there, but I’m not aware of one like ours in the state of Florida – especially one with our facilities.”

What was not expected was the media’s bashing of an American hero.

“The engagement of a combat training company with links to an accused war criminal raises serious questions about the intentions of Florida Governor DeSantis’s civilian military force,” a reporter wrote of one Stronghold trainer, retired Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher.

To single out Gallagher was a new low and extremely unfair, Morton said.

“If they really knew his story, he’s a guy who served his country for 20 years. He’s a true warfighter. He’s been in the worst situations. He pushed through Mosul, which was extreme. He took care of his guys. In my opinion, he is a great example of what a patriot should be. They really used all that against him. Most of the media’s negative coverage that’s been pointed at us was through our relationship with Eddie,” Morton said.

To be clear, Gallagher ran afoul of the normal tension and distrust that exists between the conventional Navy and the extremely unconventional SEAL Teams. It’s something any special operator can face, regardless of their branch of service. Gallagher was charged with seven crimes but acquitted of six. President Trump immediately congratulated Gallagher via Twitter. Four weeks later, Trump ordered the Secretary of the Navy to revoke the Navy Achievement Medals, which were given to Gallagher’s prosecutors as a reward for their prosecution.

The Navy didn’t give up despite the acquittal and ordered Gallagher demoted from E-7 to E-6. Trump intervened and stopped the demotion cold. Undeterred, the Navy quickly convened a “Trident Review Board,” to determine whether Gallagher should be stripped of his SEAL Trident. For Trump, that was too much. He tweeted: “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”

Graves has zero regrets. He and Morton consider Gallagher a close friend and one of their best instructors.

“In special operations, there are guys who are trained and guys who are experienced,” he said. “Eddie is both trained and experienced. From a practical standpoint, he is one of the best guys we could bring in. He is a confident, capable, highly experienced guy. Unfortunately, the system turned its teeth on him.”

New Federalism

Graves and Morton are in talks with officials in Texas and Louisiana who have expressed interest in creating special operations units in their states.

“It’s federalism – trying to get the decision making back to the state level,” Graves said. “We need a system where the states can rely on each other. We can create similar units in a coalition of states if they put the financial means behind it. We can vet, train and run the exact program, so anytime there’s a manmade or natural disaster, the states can send each other resources.”

Morton added that they are not trying to replace federal resources. They want to give governors additional options.

“We are certainly not opposed to federal assistance,” Morton said. “What we are really getting at is trying to help states create the environment where states have the means to solve their own problems.”

—Lee Williams for SAF’s Investigative Journalism Project

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27 COMMENTS

  1. I remember when this started. There was a little local media activity at the time, but it quickly fell out of the news cycle. This article is the first I’ve heard about it since. Florida has a SF National Guard unit in Jax. Worked alongside a guy in a local sister agency. Retired now, but he was an O-4 in the unit. They educated some gang bangers on what “locked and loaded” really meant after Hurricane Andrew.

    • Graves and Morton are in talks with officials in Texas and Louisiana who have expressed interest in creating special operations units in their states.”
      How about that.
      If the MSM/legacy media is against something, most likely it is a good thing worthy of POTG support.

    • “They educated some gang bangers on what “locked and loaded” really meant after Hurricane Andrew.”

      Things in Polk were surprising quiet in 2004 after the 3 late summer hurricanes hit in 6 weeks.

      I just assumed it was the general state of most folks already owning guns that kept the looters and other miscreants at bay that year…

      • Geoff, if you mean Charlie, Wilma and I forget the third one. They begin to blend in the memory after a little while. If so, yeah, I worked those too. I was in Punta Gorda with three other deputies from my department. The looting was much less than other hurricanes I’ve worked, but there was some. I always tell people, arm yourself and watch your six. Everyday.

        • Punta Gorda is on the coast, and I was in the center of the state.

          For some reason, the coasts tend to attract the transients and other ‘temporary’ residents.

          (That, and having Grady “Because they ran out of bullets” Judd as sheriff may have helped… *snicker*)

  2. “Graves and Morton are in talks with officials in Texas and Louisiana who have expressed interest in creating special operations units in their states.”
    How about that.
    If the MSM/legacy media is against something, most likely it is a good thing worthy of POTG support.

    If you good fellows have not read .40 cal Booger’s comments relative to tyranny, communism and socialism, then do take the time to read for he is spot on.
    https://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/louisiana-to-become-28th-permitless-carry-state/

    I might add that Gadsden Flag is no slouch either.

  3. Great idea. Hope all the red states follow in kind. Blue states don’t have any violence problems, right?

  4. “Founders want to create similar special operations units across a coalition of states, which would not be subject to federal oversight or presidential authority. This scares the Feds and the legacy media.”

    They should be scared. Ya participate in the Biden tyranny, you need to be scared.

  5. 60 man crew, $1.2 mil that’s only $20,000 per person, how are they going to get the rest of their funding?

    • “to select, train and validate a 60-man special operations force”

      I read this as this contract is narrowly tailored to those ends, i.e. drawing from current manning, equipment, facilities, etc.

  6. As a happily retired Air Guard NCO I can attest that the more the USAF hammered the round peg of the ANG into Big Air Force’s square hole the more our mission effectiveness dropped. If the political leaders at the state level and the people they work for want units like this, the more power to them. Leviathan doesn’t like being challenged so best of luck!

  7. “Special Operations” is a buzzword both Putin and Ron De-Insane-ous use to mask the true intent of these dangerous thug paramilitary lunatic groups which will become or have become the private jackbooted military groups supporting both demigods. Ron De-Insane-ous fully plans to use these heavily armed Jackboots to flout any and all Federal Laws that he disagrees with or takes away any of his dictatorial power.

    • Your idiotic opinion is noted. Glad to see there is some sort of counterpoint in the state of Florida to the leftist brownshirts, antifa domestic terrorists and invading criminal mobs of military aged men from other countries. The future looks spicy, you should think about what side you’re on.

  8. This seems like really good news. The force needs to be bigger, and better armed. Hopefully many other states will follow Florida’s lead here.

  9. U.S. Army fails to meet recruiting goals (I wonder why?). Their solution is to cut manning by 24,000, mostly from Special Operations. Where will these highly trained personnel go?

    If the DoD is committed to creating something so repugnant as a progressive armed forces, chocked full of DEI initiatives, then decide to cut out the very people needed most, this is just one of the results.

    If a young and motivated patriot was to express a desire to serve today, I would steer them towards something like this, a State Guard, and advise them to choose carefully if they wanted to enlist / commission in the U.S. Armed Forces. After nearly three decades of service in the military, I am very sad to say this.

    • I am a vet. I tell all that will listen to not serve in these times. I’ve talked some out and am proud of it.

    • I know where some of them will go. They will do what they do when the action is over – re-group and resupply.

  10. “Gallagher was charged with seven crimes but acquitted of six. [i.e., found guilty on 1 charge]
    … The Navy didn’t give up despite the acquittal and ordered Gallagher demoted from E-7 to E-6.”

    Quite a narrative there. Guy was found guilty of one charge and the Navy punished him for it. Such injustice….

    • Gotta think about what “crimes’ means here under the UCMJ. It could have been as simple as back talking an officer, which would, under the UCMJ mean he could be demoted for that. But we don’t really know, but being ‘acquitted of six’ and only found guilty of one for which he was demoted, the demotion could be for anything but if that was his penalty its nothing serious and more than likely inconsequential and more like ‘traffic violation’ level in terms of the civilian world.

      • Don’t have to think if you can just look them up.

        “… former teammates who accused him of war crimes — including stabbing a wounded Islamic State prisoner to death and sniping at civilians … he was found guilty of posing for a photo with the prisoner’s corpse”

        https://www.military.com/daily-news/2021/06/26/eddie-gallagher-vs-world-after-war-crimes-trial-notorious-seal-out-settle-scores.html

        Also note how being accused by his teammates gets trivialized in the promo as “Gallagher ran afoul of the normal tension and distrust that exists between the conventional Navy and the extremely unconventional SEAL Teams….”

        • I meant the reason for the demotion, what substantiated that really.

          Because apparently there wasn’t evidence to actually convict and penalize him for something more serious because he was ‘acquitted of six’.

  11. Missing from this promo piece is the detail of who controls these state military forces. The Governor? The state legislature?

    Either way, a concern for any citizen wary of abuse. Just picture Gov. Hochol, Newsom, or Pritkin or the NY, CA, or IL legislature with their own special military to respond to “terrorist” threats.

    • “Missing from this promo piece is the detail of who controls these state military forces. The Governor? The state legislature?”

      Governor is CIC, and legislature ‘allocates’ and decides that needed to make it work or not work. Or in other words, a constitutional separation of powers – executive and legislative branches.

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