Can you imagine a time when Florida was the least populated Southern state?
In the 1940 census, that's where our state fell.
Then the shock of the bombing of Pearl Harbor happened Dec. 7, 1941, projecting the U.S. into World War II the next day. That was when the military presence that is vital to Northeast Florida today boosted Florida's population.
It also helped pull our nation out of the fallout of the Great Depression.
Florida provided the terrain and climate suitable for training our military. Florida is now the fourth most populous state in the country.
The strong military presence that began more than 70 years ago has an even more significant impact today in Northeast Florida. Home to multiple military facilities, employment in the area for more than 50,000 can be credited to active duty, reserve and civilian men and women. That does not include the number of jobs the military indirectly creates throughout our community, which is more than 100,000.
In short, the military directly and indirectly accounts for more than 150,000 jobs in Northeast Florida.
Collectively, those individuals earn gross wages of more than $4 billion, create approximately $16 billion in annual sales activity, consume more than $10 billion in food, housing, transportation, medical care, etc., and invest more than $1 billion in real estate.
These numbers come from a report commissioned by Enterprise Florida in 2010, and they define the area to include counties as far south as Flagler, Levy, Marion and Putnam and as far west as Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette and Suwanee.
Nevertheless, it is safe to say the majority of activity occurs in our five-county area, with a large concentration in Duval County.
In addition, consider that more than 3,000 of those leaving the military each year choose to stay in our area. This provides area businesses with a pool of workers that are disciplined, well-trained and highly skilled.
All told, more than 162,000 veterans make Northeast Florida their home, which means that a substantial percentage of our population is influenced by the military presence in our community.
But, let's forget the money for a minute. Florida is home to more than 1.6 million veterans covering the Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Korean and World War II eras.
The area has the third largest population of disabled veterans in the nation. Many of those veterans have challenges, which may be cognitive, physical or otherwise.
Several organizations are available to support veterans from the past and present with the obstacles they may face.
One such organization, the Wounded Warrior Project, is headquartered here in Jacksonville.
The organization serves those military members who incurred service-related wounds, illnesses or injuries that occurred on or after Sept. 11. It also provides support for their families and its mission is simple: To honor and empower wounded warriors.
The Wounded Warrior Project achieves this through rehabilitative retreats and resources designed to help those with invisible wounds such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
The program also engages service members through adaptive sports and offers secondary rehabilitation to those who have lost multiple limbs. To build confidence and open up opportunities for a meaningful career, the organization offers campus services to allow those veterans the opportunity to complete their chosen academic or vocational goal.
It also offers programs designed to successfully help veterans transition into the civilian workforce.
I asked Dan McCarthy, special projects director for the organization, why it chose to relocate its headquarters here and his answer was quick and simple. He said it was because the Jacksonville community takes great pride in those who proudly serve our country and it shows.
To show your support for the Wounded Warrior Project, visit woundedwarriorproject.org to make a donation.
These men and women have honored us by serving our country to defend our freedoms and liberties. It is our turn to honor them by supporting this organization, which truly gives those men and women an opportunity to enjoy this great country the way we all do.
In addition to organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project that are focused on providing assistance to our veterans, the American Bar Association, The Florida Bar and The Jacksonville Bar Association also reach out to lend a helping hand to our military.
The American Bar Association, through the ABA Military Pro Bono Project, offers pro-bono services regarding military cases and bridges military and civilian attorneys to provide attorney-to-attorney advice and consultation.
The Florida Bar's Military Affairs Committee advises members of The Florida Bar on matters relating to Florida military law. It also has general jurisdiction over issues regarding legal services for members of the military and their families in civil and criminal matters in the state.
The Jacksonville Bar Association's Military Law Committee and Pro Bono Committee work in conjunction with the ABA to provide pro-bono services to military members located in Northeast Florida. Those issues involve homelessness, foreclosure, family law, bankruptcy, etc. Recently, through the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership, The Jacksonville Bar Association and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid have begun coordinating with the Wounded Warrior Project to tackle some of these issues for the wounded veterans in our community.
So, as you can see, the military is incredibly important to Northeast Florida. It provides us with a huge economic impact year after year and, more importantly, provides us with a blanket of freedom we can't put a price on.
Fortunately, as you also can see, we have opportunities to provide for them. Let's take advantage of those opportunities.
In addition to those types of opportunities, it also helps to simply tell them "thank you." When you see members of our military, police force or fire department, shake their hands and thank them for their service.
It means so much to them and it's so easy to say.
The Bar is open! Come make a difference.