Another small town in Texas is turning “thumbs down” on scheduled Army Special Warfare operation this summer. Bastrop County held a public hearing Monday, where the Army sent an officer to explain what will be happening across Texas and stretching west to California.
Monday morning brought more than 150 people to the Bastrop County Commission chambers, where Army Lieutenant Colonel Mark Lastoria showed maps of the planned operation, according to an article in the Austin American-Statesman by Sean Collins Walsh. He then answered dozens of questions from people who said things like “I don’t trust you” and others who admitted to not trusting the government. Residents recounted stories about the wildfires of 2011 where federal help never arrived and the President would not sign a declaration of disaster.
Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape told the Statesman that he didn’t expect such a strong negative reaction from the public when the county agreed to be a Jade Helm 15 host. Asked why the county agreed to host exercise when residents are still recovering from the psychological trauma of the Labor Day 2011 wildfires that devastated the area, Pape said he didn’t expect Jade Helm 15 to cause anxiety.
“If I as your county judge thought we were in one iota of danger from this … I would do all that I could to put a stop to it,” he said. “Many of the citizens of Bastrop County are still suffering and reeling from the disaster. … We hopefully cannot let that be a negative anchor in our lives. We’re trying to move on as a county.”
Bastrop sits about 30 miles east of Austin, and has been home to Camp Swift, a 56,000 acre National Guards training base since World War II.
On the JADE HELM 15 operational maps, it shows Texas, the southern California border region and Utah as “hostile territory.” As Sean Collins Walsh wrote:
On Monday, Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria found out why. Lastoria answered questions for two hours from a crowd of more than 150 people at a special meeting of the Bastrop County Commissioners, hoping to allay locals’ concerns that the training operation is a way for the federal government to take over Texas and much of the Southwest. Instead, Lastoria was told that he couldn’t be trusted and was asked whether Jade Helm 15 will involve bringing foreign fighters from the Islamic State to Texas, whether U.S. troops will confiscate Texans’ guns and whether the Army intends to implement martial law through the exercise. (The answer for all three was no.)
Lastoria noted that Texas, in the past, has been hospitable to military training efforts. Misinformation spread by people with a particular ideology, he said, is the reason for the change in attitude.
“Texans are historically supportive of these efforts to prepare our troops,” he said. “People want to make this something that it is not.”
One attendee asked, “When we have a federal government that cannot tell the truth, how do we know that what you’re saying is true?” In response, Lastoria said that the operation was a product of the Army, not politics.
“You may have issues with the administration. So be it. But this institution right here has been with you for over 200 years,” he said. “I’ve worn this uniform across five different administrations for 27 years.”
Colonel Lastoria also provided background on JADE HELM 15. In Bastrop, one of 12 Texas counties involved in the operation, there will be at most 60 soldiers, two Humvees and one night in which a helicopter exercise will take place, Lastoria said. Most of the exercises in Bastrop will take place on a private property leased at no charge to the Army by the landowner. The exercises that move off that property, he said, will be simulated transports to and from the other outposts in Texas.
Soldiers will wear either uniforms or orange arm bands to show that they are part of the exercises and will not be attempting to move through the population undetected, Lastoria said. He also pointed out that Texas is 10 percent bigger than Afghanistan and that poses challenges in moving troops and equipment. “The terrain is very challenging and it’s going to make our soldiers sweat, and sweating in peacetime is what we want because it’s going to reduce the bleeding in wartime,” he said.
Rob Milford is a news contributor for Breitbart Texas. Follow him on Facebook.