CHRISTOVAL, Tex. — Despite the Internet chatter about trains with shackles and Walmart stores being closed to be used as detention camps, this small West Texas town on Wednesday seemed to be surviving the start of Jade Helm 15, the military exercise that some people fear is actually a ruse for a federal takeover of the state.
No military equipment or personnel were visible. No tanks were rumbling past the beige-metal community center on Main Street next door to the fire station here, the scene of 4-H Club meetings and family reunions. But that did not mean that people were not on the alert.
“I’ve been looking,” said Jack Campbell, 61, who was picking up his mail at the post office.
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Scott Degenaer, outside his home in Christoval, Tex. Mr. Degenaer said he understood the paranoia over Jade Helm 15 that led some residents to bury their firearms.Military Exercises and Paranoia in West Texas: A Reporter’s NotebookJULY 15, 2015
Dr. Campbell said that he had concerns about the exercise, and that he purchased extra ammunition for the weapons he keeps in his home. “Just in case,” added Dr. Campbell, an emergency physician in San Angelo, 20 miles away. “People are just vigilant. Not vigilantes, but vigilant. They don’t want to be caught off guard.”
Another resident here said a friend of his, a Vietnam veteran, started burying some of his firearms to hide them. A farmer was rumored to have taken a different approach, by buying 20,000 rounds of ammunition. The superintendent of the school district thought he saw low-flying military cargo planes overhead. Members of the Christoval Volunteer Fire Department, which owns the community center, signed an agreement with military officials stating — oddly to some, suspiciously to others — that the Army will pay for any damage to the building after it uses it.
Sindy Miller, who runs a hair salon on Main Street, said fears of a military takeover have been the talk of Christoval, which is southeast of Midland.
“They’re worried that they’re going to come in and take their firearms away,” Ms. Miller said. “Martial law, basically. I try not to listen to all these conspiracy-theory-type people. All they’re worried about is their beer and their guns.”
Jade Helm 15, an eight-week exercise that has generated paranoia for months fueled by conservative bloggers and Internet postings, began Wednesday in Texas and six other states: Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Utah.
The Army’s Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other Special Operations troops will be conducting drills on private property, military bases and some public facilities. According to military documents, more than 1,200 service members will participate in the operation in Texas, in more than a dozen mostly small towns and rural counties.
“The public can expect little disruption in their day-to-day activities since much of the exercise will be conducted in remote areas,” the organizer of the exercise, the Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., said in a statement Monday.
But in a larger sense, Jade Helm 15 has already caused disruptions, particularly in Texas. On the orders of Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas State Guard will monitor Jade Helm 15 from Camp Mabry in Austin, the state capital. So will at least one national group of unofficial monitors and protesters that calls itself Counter Jade Helm. It plans to have teams of volunteers follow Army vehicles and post their locations to its website. Dr. Campbell and others here said much of the paranoia over Jade Helm 15 is the outgrowth of the anti-Obama sentiment that is widespread in Texas, and they supported the governor’s decision to have the state monitor the activities. “I think there’s an overall distrust of the government now,” Dr. Campbell said. “If we had a government that we felt had our backs, I don’t think anybody would give it the time of day.”
Off-base training exercises involving role-playing are not new — candidates for the Army’s Special Forces take part in a four-week drill known as Robin Sage in rural North Carolina — but the size and scope of Jade Helm 15 make it unusual.
The military exercise will train Special Operations troops in what Army planners call “unconventional warfare.” The exercise is being conducted in rural Texas because the military needed “large areas of undeveloped land with low population densities with access to towns,” and wanted soldiers to adapt to unfamiliar terrain as well as social and economic conditions, according to Army documents.
In East Texas, near the Louisiana border, the troops have permission in Marion County to use their aircraft on a private runway. The community center in Christoval will be used for, as one local official described it, “an altercation site.” A nighttime helicopter “extraction” will unfold in Disaster City, a mock community in College Station where emergency responders train.
Local officials who have been briefed on the exercise say it is modeled after the French resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II. It calls for some military personnel to play the role of the occupiers and for others to work undetected as part of the resistance. Military maps show Texas and Utah as “hostile,” other states as “permissive,” and still others as uncertain but leaning hostile or friendly.
According to some right-wing bloggers and activists, the exercise is part of a secret plot by the Obama administration to impose martial law, confiscate firearms, invade red-state Texas or prepare for instituting “total population control.” A report on Infowars, a website operated by Alex Jones, a libertarian-leaning talk radio host from Texas, suggested Helm was an acronym for Homeland Eradication of Local Militants.
Military organizers have not explained the meaning of the exercise’s name, its slogan (“Master the Human Domain”) or its logo, which features a Dutch wooden clog at the center of two intersecting arrows and a sword.
The level of realism sought by Army planners, and uncertainty about whether troops will try to blend in with civilians during the exercise, have heightened the curiosity and unease among some Texans. The military has told local officials that fire extinguishers will be at each training site and that some personnel may carry weapons loaded with blank ammunition or paintball-style training cartridges. According to a PowerPoint presentation prepared by military organizers for Texas officials, some Jade Helm 15 participants “may conduct suspicious activities” as part of their training and others “will be wearing civilian attire and driving civilian vehicles.” Mr. Abbott has been getting regular updates about the preparations for the exercise, but a spokesman for him said he has no concerns about it. “The Special Operations Command has assured Texas that this exercise poses no risk to anyone, and the governor sees no reason to worry or doubt them,” said the spokesman, John Wittman.
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steve z 28 minutes ago
From what I’ve read in this article it seems the area chosen for Jade Helm 15 was selected because it most resembles a Third World Country….
Jay S 33 minutes ago
I believe that if I were a member of the military participating in Jade Helm 15, I would be more wary of my fellow (right-wing, paranoid)…
Swatter 34 minutes ago
These people are so far outside reality, often willfully so in their choice of ignorance, highly narcissistic and paranoid in believing they…
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In Christoval, an unincorporated town of about 500, Scott Degenaer, 53, smoked a cigarillo outside his home and said he was not sure what to think about Jade Helm 15. But he had suspicions. Two flags flapped in the breeze on his porch: an American flag and a Confederate battle flag. Signs on his house and in the yard read, “Pray for America” and “Warning: The door you are about to break down is locked for your protection!” Mr. Degenaer, a Navy veteran, said that he saw a Black Hawk helicopter flying over Christoval on Sunday, and that he understood the paranoia that would lead some people to bury firearms.
“With Obama being in there,” he said, “with the way he’s already stomped all over the Constitution, pushing his presidential authority to the max, it would only be just the stroke of a pen for him to do away with that. This man is just totally anti-U.S. I mean, he just signed a deal with Iran.”
Throughout the interview, Mr. Degenaer was skeptical whether the reporter and photographer who spoke with him were members of the news media and wondered if they were part of Jade Helm 15. “Spec Ops grows beards,” he said, referring to the photographer’s facial hair. “Y’all got a military ID?”
While much of the attention on Jade Helm 15 has focused on conspiracy theories, Army planners have spent months quietly persuading private property owners and small-town leaders to welcome them to their communities. Many local officials and ranchers have granted troops access to their land and buildings, without asking for compensation in return.
In the West Texas town of Eldorado, the local authorities gave the Army approval to use a vacant hospital for office space, although the Army did not ask to use it. And Eldorado’s longtime mayor, John Nikolauk, said he is allowing the troops to use his ranch.
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“We’re a very patriotic part of the country and we think it’s great,” said Mr. Nikolauk, a former United States Air Force pilot.
Mr. Nikolauk and other local officials said they considered the Internet rumors about Jade Helm 15 far-fetched.
“If the government has an idea they can come in and take over, and take guns away, the stupidest place they could come is West Texas,” said Bill Ford, a commissioner in Tom Green County whose district includes Christoval. “There’s more guns and ammo here and more people willing to use them than any combat area they’ve fought in.”