The state headquarters of most of the nation’s National Guard organizations is in that state’s capital.
This is a logical choice, since the Guard comprises the state militia, available to the governor in the time of crisis, as well as a reserve component of the armed forces. (This dual mission is the distinction between the National Guard and the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Reserve.)
Florida is the exception to this practice of locating the Guard headquarters in the capital, and I am one of hundreds, perhaps thousands of retired Florida National Guardsmen who appreciates the exception.
Florida’s State Arsenal (another word for the Guard headquarters) is located in the historic St. Francis Barracks in
St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city.
This location is about 100 miles and two hours closer to most of the state’s population than the state capital in Tallahassee.
As a 30-year Guardsmen, St. Augustine was my home-away-from-home for the last 12 years of my career. If you have to make a three-hour one-way commute to work (one weekend a month) you could not pick a more picturesque destination.
Last week, Mary and I chose St. Augustine for a four-day visit to observe our 50th wedding anniversary. In addition to its historic and picturesque ambiance, St. Augustine has (according to one directory we checked) 256 restaurants. In my 12 years of drilling in St. Augustine, I ate at many of them.
Although I retired from the Guard in 1995, I figured that this historic city that is marking its 450th birthday probably hadn’t changed that much, and that even I, who cannot find my way out of a broom closet with a flashlight, a map, and a compass, would have no problem finding my way around.
St. Augustine, which guards its historic atmosphere and architecture with the ferocity of a mother bird protecting her brood of new chicks, has allowed development of what was once a parking lot on the north end of the historic district.
That area included our hotel (the
St. George Inn) and a number of shops and eating establishments. Though less than 20 years old, this addition to the community faithfully maintains the historic ambiance of Old St. Augustine.
But getting there is a new challenge.
Grouchy Gertie, the impatient voice in our GPS, continually told us to make turns that would have sent us the wrong way down one-lane, one-way streets. Mary finally called the St. George, and the front desk manager cheerfully described what she and a co-worker were wearing, and told us they would stand in the street and wave us down when we came into sight. It worked.
The St. George does not have its own parking lot; few facilities in the historic area do. There are a few metered parking lots, and a two-story municipal parking garage. Our lodging included use of the garage, two blocks away.
St. Augustine is a walkable city, which is fortunate. The few metered lots — if you can spot a vacancy in one — are hard to find and not centrally located.
Curbside parking is virtually all reserved for residents.
But walking the streets in the restored area — some paved with stones, others with bricks — is part of the St. Augustine experience.
There are two tram train companies (locals can tell you which one is better) that circle the area, with stops at various attractions; horse-drawn carriages; river cruises; taxi cabs; and maybe a transportation option or two that we missed.
A self-guided tour of the Castillo de San Marcos ($7 for adults) is still the best bargain in St. Augustine, though I can remember when the admission was $2 and included a tour conducted by a National Park Service guide.
If St. Augustine sounds like the place for a visit, take comfortable shoes and a credit card. You will need both, often.
An interesting footnote: St. Augustine has existed under the Spanish flag for longer than it has under the American flag. That will remain true until 2056.
Seafood is plentiful and delicious; the people are friendly; and the historic preservation is authentic.
And if you are a Florida National Guardsman, St. Augustine is where the rank is.
I should know.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. As a Guardsman, he got paid every time he drilled in
St. Augustine. A week ago, St. Augustine got a lot of that money back.)