The talk and speculation soon ends. Wednesday marks the start of “JADE HELM 15”, a multi-state, long-term, field-training exercise put on by the Army’s Special Operations Command from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
In the last four months, volumes of stories, rumors, and theories have been put out for consumption on the “real” meaning of the operation, covering a huge expanse of the nation, from Texas to California, and the additional meaning of several Walmart’s being mysteriously closed. Pictures of trainloads of army vehicles have been taken across the country—all linked to this drill.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was drawn in to the paranoia during April, bowing to public pressure and ordering the Texas State Guard to monitor what happens across the Lone Star State, as previously reported by Breitbart Texas.
Some basics: The military has always been running some training exercise, somewhere, with some “doesn’t mean anything” name. These exercises or war games don’t always get advance promotion, town hall meetings, a field-grade (lieutenant colonel) officer to handle public relations.
The size and scale are huge: Texas to southern California, including New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada. In the days before World War II, massive maneuvers involved thousands of square miles of Louisiana and the Carolinas, lasting a month or six weeks and involving 400,000 troops. In a reverse of that, this exercise involves little more than 1,200 troops deployed in the field, but substantial command, control, and communications elements scattered across the entire southwest corner of the nation.
And that is where the first sticking point arrives: The seven states are labeled as “friendly,” ‘neutral,” or “hostile.” Texas and Utah are listed as “hostile.” Louie Gohmert, a Republican congressman from Texas, said recently in a statement, “Such labeling tends to make people who have grown leery of federal government overreach become suspicious of whether their big brother government anticipates certain states may start another civil war or be overtaken by foreign radical Islamist elements which have been reported to be just across our border.”
Most Texans generally welcome all things related to the U.S. military. Texas produces troops out of proportion to its percentage of the population. Texas remains home to three major Army bases, three Navy bases, six Air Force bases, and a pair of major Joint Reserve Bases in Houston and Fort Worth.
In response to the operation, “Counter Jade Helm 15,” a Facebook group, has decided to put JH15 under observation, in order to get the word out, in real time if possible, on the moves being made by the Army.
This has been organized by 44-year-old Pete Lanteri, a former Marine from New York now living in Arizona with plenty of experience on civilian border patrols. He founded the Counter Jade Helm Facebook page, with 6,000 members, and he made a webpage and forum where field reports will be uploaded.
“We’re going to be watching what they do in the public,” he said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. “Obviously on a military base they can do whatever they want. But if they’re going to train on public land we have a right as American citizens to watch what they’re doing.”
He said the volunteer force includes about 200 people, with the largest group in Arizona. Many former military and law enforcement, as well as lifelong civilians have joined the cause.
Lanteri coordinates the whole seven-state operation from his home in Phoenix, where each field report will be received.
Eric Johnston, a 51-year-old retired firefighter and sheriff’s deputy who lives in Kerrville, is a surveillance team leader in Texas. He’ll coordinate three groups of volunteers, about 20 folks in total. Johnston, and others will oversee the operations in each town where Jade Helm will take place. On scene, the volunteers will locate the drill sites and observe. Johnston tells the Houston Chronicle that there’s a strict no-camouflage policy to avoid the appearance of a more radical group, and they’ll all be unarmed. With binoculars and spotting scopes, they’ll record troop numbers, uniforms, and activities.
One of Johnston’s men, a licensed pilot, even plans on making surveillance flights with his personal aircraft.
They’ll relay all reports to the headquarters in Arizona. There, Lateri said an intelligence staff, some whom are former Army intelligence workers, will review and verify information before posting it publicly on their website. “We just want to see what they’re doing and make that information public,” Johnston said.
If so, they will be drawing attention to their efforts, since there will be no apparent media coverage of the entire exercise.
In the last couple of weeks, SOCOM made clear that there will not be any media coverage of the operation. Despite reporters embedding with all branches during Operation Iraqi Freedom, including Special Forces and Navy SEALS, SOCOM isn’t allowing reporters or photographers into the mix. In addition, there is a blackout on what the Texas State Guard is doing. Not only are they not allowing media embeds, they won’t share the details of their orders. In response to a query, a spokesperson said that “we are unable to speak about ongoing operations.”
The focal points in Texas are in Bastrop, just east of Austin, Junction, on the southwest corner of the hill country, and in Big Spring, a transportation center for the panhandle.
Army Special Operations didn’t address questions about the civilian surveillance operation, but said in a statement, “This training exercise will go mostly unnoticed; not interfere with private citizens and not violate their privacy and rights. It will not disrupt their economies or livelihoods. State and local officials will receive updates as the exercise progresses and they are equally committed to ensuring the training occurs smoothly.”
On the webpage Military.com, the Army says that the goal of the exercise is to maintain a low profile, almost undetectable, not just in Texas but across the entire area. An occasional late-night helicopter flight might be noticed, but people looking for hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles, large convoys, or an air assault with hundreds of helicopters will be disappointed.
Milford is a Breitbart Texas news contributor. You can follow him on Facebook.