Florida Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) has appointed Destin Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell to serve among the Senate’s first appointees to Florida Is For Veterans, Inc., a nonprofit corporation created by the Florida GI Bill and responsible for strengthening Florida's standing as the most military-friendly state in the nation. Jim Bagby and Tom Rice of Northwest Florida were also appointed.
Florida Is For Veterans, Inc. is tasked with promoting Florida as a veteran-friendly state to retired and recently separated military personnel; promoting the value of military skill sets to businesses in the state; facilitating workforce training to veterans to meet the needs of employers; and to enhance the entrepreneurial skills of veterans. The corporation is governed by a 9-member board of directors. The President, the Speaker, and the Governor each appoint three members to four-year appointments.
The Florida GI Bill, of which Florida Is For Veteran’s, Inc. was a key component, was signed in to law on March 31, 2014, and took effect on July 1. A pillar of the joint House and Senate “Work Plan Florida 2014” agenda authored by President Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel), the Florida GI Bill seeks to establish Florida as the top “Welcome Home” state for military families and retirees by expanding education and career development opportunities for those who have served in the nation's armed services.
"In Florida, we know that our military bases and missions are critical to the nation's security and Florida's economy," President Gaetz said. "We also know military members, their spouses, their children and retirees from all services add strength, character, diversity and quality to our communities, our neighborhoods and our schools. The three appointees the Senate has chosen to oversee and guide Florida's military-friendly policies are exactly the kind of people Florida wants to attract. As persons who have served their country and as successful and contributing leaders in their communities, Prebble Ramswell, Tom Rice and Jim Bagby know what Florida must continue and what we must improve in order to reach out to military families nation-wide."
Florida Is For Veterans, Inc. will be administratively housed at the Florida Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA). The corporation will promote the value of military skill sets to businesses in Florida and assist in training veterans via the VETS program. Florida is for Veterans, Inc. will receive $300,000 from VISIT Florida for market research on the veteran and military communities and advise VISIT Florida in the development and implementation of a marketing campaign encouraging veterans and service members to make Florida their permanent residence.
The VETS program, housed at Florida Is For Veterans, Inc., is a workforce training program that caters to the unique training needs of veterans. This program is structured to serve as a hub where employers can be connected with veterans looking for jobs. Training that is needed to fulfill workforce needs can be funded through the VETS program. The program also provides services, such as resume building and helping veterans translate military training into civilian workforce skills. As part of the VETS program, Florida Is For Veterans, Inc., will contract with one or more university systems to establish entrepreneurial training programs for veterans to help them start small businesses in the state.
The three Senate appointees will also advise the Senate President on additional ways to attract and support military families and retirees.
Prebble Ramswell is a former intelligence officer specializing in counter-terrorism operations. She and her husband, Tony, met while both were working for the Central Intelligence Agency. Tony, formerly with British Special Forces, is a director of the Special Operations School at Hurlburt Field in Okaloosa County. The couple has one daughter, Briar, a second grader at Destin Elementary School.
Mrs. Ramswell was a Division I swimmer and sports journalist prior to her CIA service. She previously held positions with USA Swimming, Rice University, Stanford University and the Houston Chronicle. In 2014, she was elected to a four-year term on the Destin City Council. She is an open-water rescuer with the Destin Fire Control District and an instructor with the Destin Junior Lifeguard Program.
She earned Bachelors’ Degrees in Psychology, Sociology and Political Science from the University of Houston. Her Masters Degree in Social Sciences/Psychology is from Texas Christian University and she is currently working to complete a PhD in Political Science and International Development.
The Ramswells reside in Indian Bayou in Destin.
Tom Rice, Fort Walton Beach, retired from the United States Army as a first sergeant and has served as an advocate for our nation’s veterans in a variety of capacities. He is chairman of the Veteran’s Tribute Tower Organization and its work at Beal Memorial Cemetery and as a board member of the Fisher House of the Emerald Coast Board which provides housing and other help for veterans in need. Mr. Rice is a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans. He also serves on Senator Marco Rubio’s Service Academy Nomination Board.
Tom Rice is the owner and chef of The Magnolia Grill of Ft. Walton Beach, which he and his wife Peggy Starkey Rice opened in 1996. In 2004, the Magnolia Grill received Florida’s Good Neighbor Award from the National Restaurant Association and was the Greater Ft. Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year. Mr. Rice has been recognized nationally for his humanitarian work and his leadership of causes to help veterans and their families.
Mr. and Mrs. Rice have one daughter, Meghan Rice Gordon, who is a graduate of Auburn University and served as a legislative aide to President Gaetz prior to beginning work at the United Methodist Church of Niceville.
Jim Bagby, one of Northwest Florida's most respected tourism officials, served in the United States Army for 24 years in a variety of operational and staff assignments throughout the world. His military career began when he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point. He later earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Western Kentucky University.
Following a decade of service as town manager of Rosemary Beach, Florida, Jim was named executive director of the Walton County Tourist Development Council. He also served two terms on the Destin City Council until he was term limited in 2014. He currently serves on the Walton County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and as a lector and Eucharistic minister at Resurrection Catholic Church.
Mr. Bagby and his wife, Jennie, live in Destin and have two daughters: Sara who lives in New York City and works for MasterCard; and Jennifer, who is a recent graduate of New York University.
"Northwest Florida is rich in retired military personnel, from flag rank to enlisted members," Senate President Gaetz said. "I'm pleased the Senate and our region will be represented by three leaders who know what it is like to raise families, pursue education and plan for future job opportunities while pursuing careers in the service of their country. The purpose of the Florida GI Bill is to attract more families like the Ramswells, the Rices and the Bagbys."
The Florida Defense Support Task Force charged with advocating for our military bases, missions and jobs, also includes Northwest Floridians appointed by the Senate President and House Speaker: Judge Patt Maney, State Representatives Matt Gaetz and Jimmy Patronis, Dr. David L. Goetsch, John B. McDonald, Jr., Tom Neubauer, and Dr. Ed Naggiar.