The Pentagon backed off its plan to eliminate a Florida National Guard unit in Clearwater this week that was created to respond to potential terrorist attacks and other disasters.
The Florida Guard's 22-member 48th Civil Support Team, one of two in Florida and the only CST in the nation with a maritime capability, had been slated for elimination by the Pentagon, said Rep. C.W. Bill Young, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense.
Young said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel appeared before his subcommittee earlier this week when Young asked about plans to cut the Florida CST and one in New York, which also has two such teams.
"These are important teams, and Congress is very, very supportive" of them, Young, R-Indian Shores, said at the hearing.
Hagel, however, said the Pentagon had decided to keep the two units after all. Young said Hagel, perhaps surprised, may have made the decision on the spot. No officials in neither state had yet been informed of such a decision, he said.
"He appeared a little flustered and said the decision had been reversed," Young said. A Pentagon spokesman could not be reached to comment late Thursday.
Thomas Kielbasa, a spokesman for the Florida National Guard, confirmed that the 48th had been targeted for cuts along with the unit in New York. Both states are the only ones in the nation with two CSTs, Kielbasa said.
The 48th, the Florida Guard said, costs about $5 million a year to operate.
The proposed cuts to the CSTs were unrelated to across-the-board sequestration cuts that were imposed starting March 1, according to Young and the Florida Guard.
The 48th and other CSTs were created to respond to situations involving weapons of mass destruction, from biological attacks to nuclear weapons. But as is the case with all Guard assets, they also are used for other emergencies. In fact, one of New York's CSTs responded to the bombings at the Boston Marathon earlier this week.
Young said it was especially important for the Clearwater CST to survive because it is closest to MacDill Air Force Base, which is home to two major U.S. military headquarters — U.S. Special Operations Command and Central Command.
"In view of the clear threats to our nation, and recognizing Florida's high concentrations of valuable infrastructure, population densities, tourist destinations and size, it was imperative that Florida retain both existing CSTs," said the Florida Guard's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw Jr.
The 48th CST is located at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.
The second Florida CST, the 44th, is located at Camp Blanding near Starke. The 44th responded to the anthrax attacks a decade ago.