Starting Wednesday, U.S. Army Special Operations Command will take point on a large-scale training exercise in Texas — or if you believe some fringe outlets, they’ll take point on the Pentagon’s preparation for civil war.
Jade Helm 15, as the exercise is called, will run through Sept. 15 and will involve unconventional warfare involving Army special operators, as well as representatives from the other services.
It will focus on enhancing team-level elements’ abilities to operate in unconventional warfare well-removed from company- and battalion-level organization, said USASOC spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria.
The months leading up to Jade Helm were peppered with various conspiracy theories on fringe websites. The outrage even led to town hall meetings in Texas communities with Army representatives.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott responded by publicly assigning the Texas State Guard to keep an eye on Jade Helm. Abbott’s office later downplayed the move, saying it fit in with the guard’s advisory role in the state. Abbott also reaffirmed the state’s history of support for the military — a reason the Army cited for choosing the state to conduct the exercise. The training will occur in six other states: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.
USASOC will supply the vast majority of the roughly 1,200 personnel in the joint exercise, according to Lastoria. Limited special operations forces units from the Navy, Marines and Air Force will also participate.
On the eve of Jade Helm, Lastori dismissed the conspiracies and suggested opposition to the exercises has waned.
“This overall training exercise is designed to ensure that Army special operations forces are trained, equipped and organized to meet future threats,” Lastoria told Army Times. “Even a lot of the journalists in Texas have said a lot of the controversy has died down.”
About four to five members of the Texas State Guard will act as a liaison for citizens and coordinate with the Army from Camp Mabry, headquarters of Texas Military Forces, according to the governor’s office. A spokesman said the state should have no reason to worry or distrust the military, and said most communications between the Texas State Guard and constituents have dealt with simple logistics.
Lastoria said the biggest inconvenience to residents will be noise from military vehicles passing through. Most activities will occur in remote settings, and any use of private land has been coordinated and agreed to in advance, he said.
Outside events have been tied to the conspiracy. Temporarily-closed Walmarts were seen as concentration camps being prepared in the minds of some, while Blue Bunny ice cream trucks allegedly traveling near military vehicles were theorized as mobile morgues.
Journalists are not permitted to embed in the operation. Lastoria cited “the scope and scale and complex nature of the training exercise,” which he said was not uncommon among training exercises.
“We look at all request for media visibility, and grant when and where possible. In this case it just wasn’t possible,” Lastoria said. “We have to take a balance of communication with the public and preserving operation security as well.”
The training will take place, according to USASOC, in the following locations:
• Arizona: National Guard Training Centers and at an Army Reserve Center
• Florida: Eglin Air Force Base
• Louisiana: Camp Beauregard
• Mississippi: Camp Shelby, Naval Research Laboratory – Stennis Space Center, and U.S. Navy Seabee Base at Gulfport/Biloxi
• New Mexico: Cannon Air Force Base, and tentatively in Otero County
• Texas: Camps Bullis and Swift, and in Bastrop, Burleson, Brazos, Edwards, Howard, Hudspeth, Kimble, Martin, Marion, Real, Schleicher and Tom Green Counties
• Utah: Carbon and Emery Counties