Five Seabees from a Jacksonville unit were killed Sunday at a U.S. base in Ramadi. That makes at least nine Floridians killed in the last four days, but state officials are doing their best to ease the pain for family members left behind.
For months the Capitol has seen a sad but proud parade of families honored after the loss of their loved one in Iraq. At least nine more names were added to the growing list over the past week.
At the State Department of Military Sffairs, it is retired COL Glenn Sutphin's job to immediately start coordinating the benefits available to families of those killed in action.
“If there are children then we go ahead and feed that information over to Florida Prepaid to ensure that they children get the free college and everything that the governor and state have set up,” says Sutphin.
In addition to free college for the kids, the state can provide assistance with funeral arrangements and transportation and counseling for family members. The state can also assist with green card issues for spouses who are not U.S. citizens. Sutphin says he even works to coordinate ongoing mentoring relationships with the kids.
Florida also has several new laws to help military families awaiting their loved one's safe return. For state employees, the state pays the difference of a reservists' pay and his or her state salary, and health benefits are paid for two years upon return.
Florida is developing a growing reputation for being one of the nation's most military-friendly states.
“Many states are calling us saying, how are you doing this, how can you do this under budget restraints and the economy the way it is, and what we're saying is they're making it a priority to take care of the families,” Sutphin adds.
Approximately 60 members of the military from Florida have been killed in action since the war in Iraq began. There are approximately 7,000 Florida Guard and Reservists still on duty in Iraq.