Wal-Marts didn’t become concentration camps. Martial law was never imposed. Texans still have their guns.
Tuesday marked the official end of Operation Jade Helm 15, the controversial military training exercise that took place in part in Bastrop County and sprouted conspiracy theories, political posturings and national headlines before it began July 15. The troops actually shipped out a day early, according to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.
By most accounts, the “realistic military training” exercise went smoothly, despite the dire predictions that it would lead to a federal government takeover of the Southwest. An Abbott spokesman said in a statement that Jade Helm 15 “operated on schedule and proceeded as planned.”
The governor was criticized in April for feeding the conspiracy theorists’ anxieties when he ordered the Texas State Guard to “monitor” the exercise. The monitoring consisted of four to five guardsmen keeping tabs on the Army and giving Abbott daily reports that recapped military activities in the previous 24 hours and the schedule for the coming 72 hours, according to Abbott’s office.
“The office of the governor received daily updates about the ongoing operation and in turn was able to address any concerns and questions Texans had,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said.
Counter Jade Helm, a group of volunteers that attempted to catch a glimpse of the troop movements on the ground, also reported little disruption. Eric Johnston, a Kerrville resident and the group’s Texas director, said the military might have downsized its plans following the public outcry. Alternatively, he said, the military might have simply succeeded in its mission of going undetected.
“If a group of a couple hundred citizens could spot a special operations force, then they wouldn’t be very good at doing their job because it was supposed to be covert infiltration,” he said, “but it also showed that a number of American citizens, American patriots, are willing to give up their time to try to keep tabs on the military when it’s on our soil.”
Johnston said his group never endorsed the more extreme conspiracy theories: that the government was attempting to impose martial law or that Wal-Mart’s temporary closing of five stores across the country this year was to make way for detention centers operated by the feds.
The website where some of those theories got their biggest platform — commentator Alex Jones’ www.InfoWars.com — had no articles on Jade Helm 15 on its homepage Wednesday afternoon. Instead: “Obama and allies seek to nationalize local police.”
Designed by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command to train soldiers on operating about civilian populations undetected, the exercise involved 1,200 service members across seven states. The uproar against it was fueled by a map of the fictional battlefield that the Army released before the exercise labeling Texas, Utah and part of Southern California as “hostile” territory, and it climaxed at an informational meeting in Bastrop in April. About 150 residents aired their skepticism to Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria, who had come to answer questions on the operation.
Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape, who was inundated with criticism from skeptics and praise from military supporters after the county agreed to host the exercise, stopped taking interviews on the subject this summer. But his office said Tuesday there were no problems in the county during the exercise.
Pape previously said he was surprised by the negative reaction from Texans, who usually are supportive of the military. Many of the opponents of the exercise who came to the April meeting said their skepticism stemmed from a distrust of President Barack Obama, not the Army.
Those sentiments were echoed in May by a man vying to take Obama’s job: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who said that he asked the Pentagon for answers about the operation because “the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration.” Cruz didn’t return a request for comment Tuesday.
While martial law never came, Jade Helm 15 didn’t go off without a hiccup. A planned exercise in August by the 82nd Airborne Division at Bexar County’s Camp Bullis was canceled at the last minute because of safety concerns related to the aircraft, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
The Special Operations Command didn’t respond to an interview request.