FORT BENNING, Ga. - The Florida National Guard lived up to its motto of "Florida First" May 4 when one of its Soldiers became the first National Guard member to graduate from a new training program set up by the Army at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Last year the Department of the Army established Security Force Assistance Brigades to train, advise, assist, enable and accompany Foreign Security Forces (FSF). Of the six formed brigades, only the 54th SFAB, headquartered in Indiana, is comprised of Army National Guard members. The Florida National Guard received two of their subordinate units, an infantry battalion in Lakeland and a cavalry squadron in Gainesville.

In order to implement the framework that makes these new organizations so effective, the Army created the Military Advisor Training Academy (MATA) at Fort Benning. First SFAB fast tracked this training and has already deployed to Afghanistan and is currently embedded with FSFs. The 54th began training with 2nd SFAB to continue on this track, with Maj. Jay Robinson, operations officer with the newly formed 3rd Squadron, 54th Cavalry Squadron (SFAB) in Gainesville, being the first National Guard member to complete the Combat Advisors Training Course (CATC).

"Getting the SFAB units for the Florida National Guard is tremendous because we haven't received a new force structure in quite some time," said Lt. Col. Stephen Stroud, 3-54th squadron commander. "The fact that Maj. Robinson is the first Guardsman to graduate from the Combat Advisor Training Course is just outstanding. It's a feather in the cap for Florida, that we stood up and we're the first in line and the first to graduate."

MATA is the gateway to the combat advising roles that are the cornerstone of SFABs. Throughout the 28-day CATC course, Soldiers fall into 12-member teams that combine combat arms and combat support troops.

"While you're at the course, you develop these functions and learn from each other. There will be people on the team with strength in different areas so they can help the other team members put the picture together and learn," said Robinson.

The training focuses on building and instilling mission planning within these small teams, with concentration on close air support, call for fires, advanced medical training, and cultural and advising foreign security forces.

Each one of the combat specialties brings a war-fighting function to the team. As represented in the schoolhouse model, SFABs send out 12-member teams to austere environments and countries where FSFs are performing security duties and roles. During a deployment the teams operate independently from their higher headquarters, and just like in training, remain in their 12-member team throughout the entire mission.

Before attending the course, Robinson researched the Army's SFAB model, but says it wasn't enough to grasp the entire concept.

"Once I got here, and had a month to train with 2nd SFAB, and see what's going on, I have a pretty clear picture." He now hopes to return to Florida to share his first-hand experience about an SFAB's mission and training.

As the unit is still in the early stages of formation, only a few members of the command staff are in place, but Stroud is excited about filling the ranks with top notch Soldiers as it becomes fully operational within the next year or two.

"To not only be the commander of a unit like this, but to be the person who actually stands it up, creates the motto and all of the traditions that usually are already in place when you fall into a unit. To be able to be part of a command team that stands that up and creates that is pretty special," said Stroud.

As Soldiers join the organization, they will be filtered through the training at Fort Benning. Both the battalion and squadron will prepare for deployment rotations in the new two years as a highly trained organization under the 54rd SFAB.

As the 3-54th continues to grow, it will rely on other Florida National Guard units to put forth their best Soldiers. Ideally, Soldiers of the SFAB will gain knowledge, training and experience in the SFAB, then return to their home units or continue on a new career path with the tools they gained there.

Prior to accepting the operations officer position, Robinson, served 12 years with the 20th Special Forces Group, after serving with the Marine Corps. For the last four years, he was with 1st Squadron, 153rd Cavalry Regiment, headquartered in Panama City. In addition to his years of service in special operational forces units, he also brings a wealth of knowledge from multiple deployments.

"It's a great opportunity to serve in a unit that is going to have more challenges and more specialized training and will consist of people that are volunteering to increase their professional growth," said Robinson.

An ideal SFAB applicant must exhibit certain qualities, and rely on self-motivation and the desire to succeed in addition to relevant combat experience. Robinson says the Soldiers should stand out among their peers, exceed the Army standards and possess experience advising, leading or positively impacting their organizations.

With the 12-person teams consisting primarily of E-5 to E-6s, and leadership roles E7-E8 and O3-O4, applying Soldiers must show a desire to work alongside equally strong and determined peers.

The active Army has already created an incentive program for SFAB volunteers, and the National Guard is following suit, and hopes to publish those soon. However, Soldiers of the SFAB will receive additional MATA training, normally out of reach for National Guard members such as foreign language, foreign weapons training and SERE, survival, escape, resistance and evasion. SFAB Soldiers will also be issued the latest personal, communications and weaponry equipment available.