5,500 Guard Troops Called Up in Florida as Military Bases Brace for Hurricane Idalia

Service member shovels sand in preparation for Tropical Storm Idalia
Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Dasia Washington shovels sand into a bag aboard Naval Air Station Jacksonville in preparation for Tropical Storm Idalia, Aug. 28, 2023. (U.S. Navy photo by Jacob Sippel)

The National Guard was called up in Florida on Tuesday and the military was making a series of moves and precautions -- including moving ships and planes, as well as evacuations -- to prepare for the impact of Hurricane Idalia, a powerful and historic storm bearing down on the state.

The Navy's base in Mayport, Florida, had gotten all but five ships underway by Tuesday ahead of what is expected to be an early Wednesday morning landfall, a Navy official told Military.com. The same official said that Navy aircraft from bases in Mayport and Jacksonville were evacuated to Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

According to estimates from the National Hurricane Center, Idalia is expected to hit Florida's western coast near Apalachee Bay. The National Weather Service called the storm an "unprecedented event" that is still strengthening. "Rapid intensification is still forecast to occur today and into landfall sometime Wednesday morning," the service said in a social media post.

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Pentagon spokesman Sabrina Singh told reporters at a briefing Tuesday that the Florida National Guard has been called up for state active duty, with a mobilization of more than 3,000 Guardsmen in position across the state for preparedness and response efforts.

"An additional 1,800 Guardsmen are on their way, bringing the total to 5,500 prior to the storm landing," Singh said.

The Navy's evacuations came after the Air Force ordered its own preparations Monday. MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, located further south of the storm's anticipated landfall, issued a mandatory order that was to be completed by Tuesday morning.

The base is home to U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command.

The evacuation order included uniformed service members and their dependents, as well as civilian employees and their dependents, who are assigned to MacDill Air Force Base and live in the nearby counties.

On Monday, the Defense Department's top spokesman, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, told reporters that Central Command and Special Operations Command were considering temporarily relocating some command-and-control facilities further inland as a precaution.

"This is something that they trained for and are prepared for -- to ensure continuity of operations," Ryder said.

The Air Force noted in a press release that its own evacuated aircraft would be moved to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio as soon as 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The Navy said in a Tuesday statement that it was also making preparations at Joint Base Charleston, North Carolina, which could be in the path of Idalia if storm track predictions are accurate.

"Base personnel and residents should prepare for the arrival of the storm and assess their own personal hurricane preparedness," the statement said. "At this time, no evacuation order has been given."

Meanwhile, the Navy official told Military.com that four submarines at the base in King's Bay, Georgia, will remain in port but under heavy-weather mooring.

Military installations have a history of weathering and being damaged by hurricanes passing through Florida. Hurricane Ian damaged several installations when it hit the state in 2022, and Tyndall Air Force Base suffered severe damage during the onslaught of Hurricane Michael in 2018.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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